A few weeks ago, I was privileged to attend a Women in Business event sponsored by our Chamber of Commerce and led by the Women’s Enterprise Centre. They promised to feed us lunch and teach us how to network, all in ninety minutes.
Like many of us, “working a room” will never be my favorite thing. It’s hard to initiate a connection with a stranger, even when you share commonalities. I know I’m not alone in this, because when my six co-workers and I arrived, we all sat at the same table.
To break the ice, the leaders had us form two lines, facing each other. Like “speed-dating,” we had thirty seconds to shake the hand of the person across from us and tell them about ourselves. Then the other person took thirty seconds to do the same before moving down one spot and starting all over with a new partner. I introduced myself to nine or ten women, learned their names and what they do.
Then, while we ate a scrumptious lunch, we received some excellent pointers in networking. I’d like to share two that were most significant to me.
First, the most important skill you can learn is listening. You know that thing where you’re asked to go around the circle and say something about yourself? Have you ever been so absorbed in what you would say when your turn came that you missed what everyone else said? The trick is to prepare your standard introduction and memorize it so you can rattle it off without thinking. Then, you are free to really listen to what others say.
Secondly, if you don’t want to become stuck in a dead-end conversation, don’t ask yes or no questions. Like a good news reporter, use the five W’s and the bonus H (Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How) to engage the other person.
|A scene from the 2018 Word Awards Gala|
Determined to put my new skills to work at the recent Word Awards gala in Toronto, I approached a woman in the lobby. We shook hands and exchanged names. Ten minutes later when the same woman sat next to me, I turned to her, put out my hand, and said, “Have we met? You look familiar.”
I spent the rest of the evening observing my daughter, a people-person since birth, brilliantly demonstrate the art of networking. I think I’ll always need to draw on my acting skills to be friendly and engaging for short bursts. Like rubber bands, we can all be stretched, but only for a while and only so far.
If you’re looking for a master networker, you’ll find no better role model than Jesus. Study his life. You never see him blathering on about himself, but always engaging others and asking good questions about their lives. He talked to lots of people and never pre-judged them. He saw “prospects” everywhere, told stories, and painted word pictures. He was brief and didn’t plead with people. And when they weren’t interested, he moved on. Most of all, he genuinely cared about others and they felt it.
When it comes to networking, maybe “What would Jesus do?” is the best question you can ask.