We will network again: Time to get into great networking shape

Given the many days in isolation, social distancing, and mask-wearing, you might guess that we would all give our right arm to put on our best work outfit to attend a networking event. With people, in a crowded room!  Those were the days when we had them.

The fact is, most women would rather go to the dentist than a professional networking event.

This is not news, and when I participated in a recent panel discussion on networking, I felt it was reconfirmed. Of the 50 or so people in the audience, I spotted only a couple of men, which didn’t surprise me. I do believe that business networking comes more naturally to men. It’s something they do, not only at designated networking events, but wherever there’s an opportunity.

Even as an extrovert, I become a bit nervous in advance of a networking event, especially when I know I won’t recognize many people, but I put on my bravery armor and go. Whenever I attend a networking event, I come out feeling alive and ready to reach for more of my potential, and that’s a feeling I want for you too.

Networking events, like all other gatherings, have been put on hold because of coronavirus restrictions. In the meantime, you can use LinkedIn and Zoom or Facetime for 1:1 networking to practice some of these networking skills:

1. Be brave.

Remember the reason you are there and don’t huddle in the corner with the one or two people you know.  Make yourself go up to others and introduce yourself.  If there is a speaker or panel of speakers, stay behind to meet them after the presentation. I assure you, when you leave, you are going to feel like you just finished a triathlon or climbed a mountain to the top—you are going to feel that thrill of bravery and results.

2. Be curious

The best way to get past your fear is to make the conversation about the other person. Ask questions about their work, but don’t neglect to ask about their personal interests or their families. I have found that the common denominators of shared interests in other subjects bring people together. Sports are a great common interest for most men. It’s why a man in the C-Suite and a man in a lower-level management position can begin talking about their favorite NFL team and feel on common ground. Above all, networking is about making a connection. So be curious, ask questions, and work on your listening skills.

3. Be a resource

Let’s say you meet someone and get into a conversation about struggles with his or her boss or discover they are looking for a new workout club. Perhaps you can recommend an executive coach you’ve worked with or share your personal trainer’s contact info. Go the next step and follow up a month later.

4. Be willing to give without expecting anything in return

A terrific book I’ve been recommending lately is Give and Take by Adam Grant.  READ it, especially if you struggle with networking.  Research shows that people who willingly give without expecting anything in return are the most successful, not only in peace of mind but in their work and bank accounts. I talk to people all the time about their careers, their resumes, what makes the most sense as a next career move. This does not result in a direct deposit to my bank account and much of the time, I can expect nothing at all in return.  But I do believe that the “pay it forward” belief system works.

5. Be positive

If there is one line that is a networking buzz kill, and I hear women using it over and over, it’s: “I’m so busy.” I believe women say this 10 times more than men. First, who isn’t? Second, it doesn’t matter. You can either find time or not. You don’t want a great new contact thinking you may be unreliable or lacking good management skills. Try to remove that phrase from your vocabulary and that belief from your mindset.

6. Be interesting

Instead of saying you’re busy, talk about some of the activities that are keeping you busy in an interesting or even humorous way. If it’s your children taking up your time, you could talk about their activities and accomplishments. Find something that can be the common ground to make a more meaningful connection.

7. Be direct

How many of you have met someone and said to them (or yourself) upon leaving, “I am going to reach out to schedule a coffee or lunch with Kate.”  And then you don’t. And then time goes by. And then you get caught right back in your to-do list. And then you are too embarrassed to connect. Within 48 hours, look at that business card and call or email that person and get something scheduled.

In general, men make the most of networking events because they do these things and reap the rewards. Personally, I can’t wait to get back to attending networking events.  It is an incredible tool that every woman should have and use for personal satisfaction and professional career growth.

Cathy Sutherland is an executive search consultant and Managing Director with ZRG Partners, a global retained search firm.  Cathy is part of the Consumer Industry and Human Resources practice groups.  She is passionate about the advancement of women in business.  She has participated on panels about the topic at GSK Consumer, PepsiCo and for industry events.  Cathy has been a member of NEW since 2009 and has attended many NEW events throughout the country including the NEW Leadership Summit and the Executive Leaders Forum.

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