Outgoing is the Way to Get Going
Networking can take place in different shapes and forms, but in this post, I’ll be discussing how to tackle the most dynamic, challenging and ancient of all: face-to-face networking. (Adolescent love may get covered as well, just as an FYI.)
Let’s Begin With an Exercise to Limber Up…
Use your imagination to travel back to a networking event you’ve attended in the past. (Note that by “networking event,” I include any situation in which you had the chance to talk to somebody you thought could help you in your career, project, etc.)
Picture this situation: soda drinks, people nervously walking up and down in their best suits, making an effort to remember every name…a typical networking event. And you staring at her—the person who you trust could get your resume into that cool firm. Next to her, a cheerful guy shares a smile with her and draws all the attention in the room. You begin to sweat, thinking you will never make an impression, and so on.
Now, let’s come back to present. Was it really the first time you were in a situation like this one? Nope, although last time it happened you didn’t care as much.
The last time it happened, you were staring at that cutie you wanted to kiss in high school while she was spellbound talking to the hot guy in class. You didn’t care that much only because it wasn’t that big a deal. (“She is going out with him instead of me. So what? When I‘ve outsmarted everyone and nailed a nice job, I’ll be able to go out with even prettier girls…”)
But what if the guy who got the girl got the job as well? Even more important, what if getting the girl means that he is more likely to get the job?
Before moving on, let’s note two things here: first, I assume the same happens to girls in high school, so adapt as needed; and second, if you don’t recall that feeling at all, you either don’t need this advice or need it the most.
This said, what is my advice for networking? Care less.
What that guy had and you lacked was charm, a natural way of being. Not everyone is a great performer with a full list of impressive skills and experiences, but I assure you that being charming works just fine to get the favor of the people who will open doors that only top achievers find easy to open. You may not have been graced with the attribute of charm, but growing it is possible by developing a worry-free way of being.
It’s the old “success leads to success” story.
More Zack Morris, Less Sheldon Cooper
Confidence comes because you’re good at something, and confidence shows when you’re relaxed. I want you to look relaxed, so that everyone assumes you’re good at whatever it is.
Before you complain about using shortcuts in life (some people do), in my defense I’d say that I’ve achieved astonishing marks, two degrees, speak different languages…the whole kit. But what I’ve leveraged the most in my networking endeavors has been my travel stories and easiness in talking to people. It just works better.
What do you need to become the attention magnet? As I said earlier, care less. This requires a specific mindset and practice—no more. Here’s how to achieve it:
1. Develop a Defeat-Proof Mindset
In this highly dynamic society, there are plenty of opportunities to network that don’t put any stress on you. If things go wrong, try again tomorrow. But look nervous, and you will lose appeal.
Why don’t we start a conversation with a stranger? Most of the time, it’s because we’re afraid of what the person would think about us. The same explains many things we end up not doing. If I had had half the number of conversations that only took place in my head, I’d be the new Carnegie. I have no idea how to get rid of that concern, so I don’t bother anymore. Instead, I just take leaps of faith.
The truth is that most of the messages we communicate lie in the way we communicate them. You will feel more natural and confident if you don’t follow a script, and that matters more than the words you use. (Check out Roger Love for more proof on this.) In short, approach conversations like you would a cold shower—just walk up to the person and think of something once you’re standing in front of them.
By doing this, you take a lot of pressure off. There is no thinking beforehand, no plan, just an objective. If you fail to achieve it (which will happen many times), you won’t care as the resources spent were minimal. You won’t feel frustrated because you won just by standing there.
2. Practice Till You Forget There Was a Mindset
Like anything in life, you won’t learn this mindset by heart unless you put intense hours into it. However, unlike many things in life, practicing to become natural and charming comes cheap and with surprising perks associated.
Talk to random people. I can explain to you how the process works, how after talking to many people you gain confidence and how as your self-esteem grows, you care less about the whole process. But you have to see it with your own eyes. You need to feel uncomfortable, hold stupid conversations with a smile and enjoy awkward silences. It’s the only way to learn.
Travel places and try living away from home. You want to broaden the sorts of people you meet—the more varied, the better. I worked in the U.K., Ireland, the U.S. and Spain before I turned 22. The jobs? No big deal: McDonald’s, amusement parks, hotels…There are many agencies that find you summer jobs (for a fee) in different locations. For instance, I travelled to the U.S. with Travelingua and met people from everywhere in the world; there are plenty of other sites you can check out. If you have a lower budget, sign up for Couchsurfing (almost free) and join events organized by its members, who are active in every major city, and you’ll get to meet many people for the cost of a beer.
3. Conversational Tips
I have never followed a list of tips to use in a conversation, but with time I have noticed a few things. I encourage you to use your own experience and use these only as a reference.
- Smile. Saying “Hey! How you doing, loser?” sounds a lot better with a smile on your face. (Although even with a smile, that opening may be a bit too risky for a first contact.)
- I know you’ve worked many hours on your resume and studied many more to fill it up, but don’t just spell it all out to the first person you get to talk to.
- People would rather have you listen to their stories than listen to yours. Practice active listening. Ask questions regarding their story and link to your own to create a bond.
- Take every chance to laugh at funny comments or jokes. A nice laugh cheers the group up and is a compliment to the person who made the comment.
- Be alert. There are a few things you need to look for in your counterpart’s body language: Is she open to talking? Is she willing to talk to you alone, or should you help others join the conversation? Does she want to end the conversation? All body language is important. If you need more help on this, try The Definitive Book of Body Language by Barbara and Allan Pease.
- Enjoy yourself! Meeting somebody and being accepted is a challenge. You will often achieve this when you master the mindset, but remember: care less and enjoy the moment.
Ready to Network?
Now that you’re the life of the party, you’re ready to go out and meet the people who could help your career. In my experience, befriending a person works way better than boring her with your capabilities. Be a person anyone would enjoy having around, and you’re halfway there.
A couple comments for this final stage:
- Find your “vital experiences” and use them. No need to get mystical here; any experience can become “vital” if you learned something from it. It’s all about selling your skills in a user-friendly way that’s easy to remember. For instance: “I played tennis for nine years and then I gave up. With time I regretted that decision, learned the importance of perseverance and to avoid feeling defeated.” This is something a potential employer might want to hear about, and we all have stories like this one. Just explain them in a way that evokes something positive about you. People remember stories; use them while actively listening as I explained above.
- Live up to your new way of being. It’s difficult and risky to demonstrate an interest in something you don’t care about; people could notice that your intentions are not honest and this could play against you. Change the object of your interest; make befriending the person the desired outcome, regardless of the subject of the conversation.
Follow these guidelines and you’ll appear like someone who is confident in her capabilities, able to think on her feet and enjoyable. You will see that the longer you practice, it soon becomes all about the other person and not as much about what they could offer you. Soon, you’ll be networking everyday and in every context—you never know where the opportunity of your life could be.
Are you ready to be more outgoing?
This post originally appeared on Career Attraction.