Biz People Networking
Credit: Ambro,

Many people hate networking because they fear appearing awkward or looking stupid. Others simply don’t know what to say. Still, many network anyway and try to make it work — only to stumble.

Is that you? It was me once. Today, people have a very hard time believing I was very shy as a little girl. But in fact, as a first grader, my mouth was shut for so long, my lips dried together!

How did I overcome my awkwardness? I realized when I went to college that if I didn’t get more comfortable with starting conversations and getting to know people, I wasn’t going to have much of a social life. One of the best things I did was join a sorority; they host “rush” parties for women to get to know them and see if they’d like to join. In time, I figured out how to start talking to people I didn’t know — and because we were “rushing” all the time, I had tons of practice.

By the time I was a senior, my networking skills had improved to the point where I was asked to teach the new gals how to do so. And when my boyfriend called our school “Mary Foley University,” I knew there was no way anyone was ever going to believe that I used to be shy. I had transformed, and you can, too.

“What is networking?” asks Devora Stack, author of “Networking for People Who Hate Networking.” “Networking is the art of building and maintaining for shared positive outcomes. Real networking is connecting.” I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I say we rename “networking” to “netconnecting.” Meeting and getting to know new people is about gathering several good connections.

Here’s my simple N-E-T way to network successfully:

N –- Focus on what the other person NEEDS.

Contrary to what you may have heard before, networking is not about you. That’s where I used to get uptight and where I see so many other women get uptight when it comes to networking. They are so worried about how they will come across and what they will say and what they will do, that they forget what’s most important is the other person. The immediate need of every person at a networking event is to feel emotionally comfortable.

Let’s say you’ve just walked into the networking event and right away you’re in the presence of someone you don’t know. Someone’s got to make the first move. If too much time goes by, it feels uncomfortable, doesn’t it? So, in making this about the other person, you immediately smile, extend your hand, and introduce yourself. I might hold out my hand and say, “Hi, my name is Mary. What compelled you to battle our crazy traffic to get here today?”

However, don’t launch immediately into what you do or the Cliff Notes version of your career. Simply say your name and immediately ask a light question to begin to build rapport. By asking a simple question, you make it easy and emotionally comfortable because they only thing the other person had to do is respond.

E –- EXPLORE how you can help solve the other person’s problems.

Here’s when you want to move into more specific questions about the other person’s company or business. You want to ask questions that help you paint a picture of what their company does, what role they play (if they are not the owner), and, most importantly, what problems they are trying to solve. You could start with the proverbial, “What do you do?” but it’s such a tired question. How about a fresher version, such as, “What role do you play in your company?” or “What do you do every day to keep out of trouble?” Then listen and ask more questions such as “What do you mean by…?” or “Oh, why is that…?”

A simple “That’s interesting, tell me more” works well, too. While you’re listening, be thinking, “How can I be of help?” Perhaps it’s an article or website. Maybe it’s sharing how you solved a similar situation. Or, maybe there’s someone you can put them in touch with that could help them. Sometimes just asking questions so they can think out loud and better understand their own situation is how you can help them. They get clarity or an idea that hadn’t occurred to them before.

If you’re not sure how you can help, ask. Simply say, “How can I help you?” Asking them creates such good will and they will remember it because not that many people ask such a question.

T — Stay in TOUCH by following-up.

After your conversation jot down something about them and what they need so that you can send a follow-up e-mail or make a phone call that’s personalized. This is extremely powerful because most people never follow-up — and if they do, they are very generic and only say “nice to have met you.”

Keeping in touch also means you do what you promised. You send them the article you mentioned, or e-mail them the link to a particular website, or put them in touch with another person that you said you would. And, continue to keep in touch by sharing additional resources or ideas that may be of help.

By using this simple N-E-T approach, you can stop feeling awkward, stupid or speechless when networking, and start creating and building relationships with others. Over time you will have a whole web of contacts and people you know in your industry and in business. As your connections expand, so will your learning, influence, and power.