19 Ways to Feel More Confident Networking

A colleague I admire – she balances the details and big picture while still having a good time – and I had lunch recently. While catching up on life, she recalled an event she was at the night before. “I’m still trying to get better at networking,” she confessed. Her next comment surprised me: “You’re so good at going to events and networking, you’ll have to tell me all your secrets!”

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Networking is full of hurdles – clearing the calendar, understanding if the purpose is worth time and money, registration and payment (and maybe an expense report), parking and transportation issues, and then getting in in the door on time. Once you’re there, walking into a room of people you don’t know is scary. As humans, we crave contact and connections with others. It is no fun being on the outside when it appears that everyone else is having a great time and seems to know everyone in the room when you don’t.

But WHY do I need to network?

I hear people say all the time, “I’m not looking for a job, so I don’t need to network.” There is far more benefit to networking than trying to find a job, good reasons that support putting thought and effort and energy into feeling more confident while you network. Here are only just a few examples:

  • Meeting new friends or future co-workers (you can recruit them to your company!)
  • Connecting with possible mentors, advisors, and sponsors
  • Exposure to a new sector of your industry, to people doing important or interesting work you hadn’t known about before
  • Education on emerging trends and challenges
  • Network INSIDE your company to build deeper relationships and knowledge

If you can first adjust your mindset about networking, and then apply some practices, networking will become a less overwhelming experience and hopefully one that is more enjoyable!

First, adjust your mindset

When I was an early teenager, those most awkward of years for anyone, my mom was first running for elected office in our hometown. My parents thought it would be a great lesson and exposure to have the three kids involved, so involve us they did. It was terrifying then, but I am thankful now, because it helped create a different mindset around communicating with others. Ringing doorbells in new neighborhoods or walking into a room of strangers to ask for a vote, I realized I had a job to do. This was purely business, and others would be interested in how they could benefit from me being there. Otherwise, there was no need for me to be interrupting. Over the years, I learned a lot about people that made these kinds of tasks easier to approach.

  • Most everyone in the room is a little bit nervous also.
  • People are people, no matter their title. We’re all going through this world together.
  • Finding out what is important to someone and helping them to solve their problems is a great way to provide value
  • Some people are naturally rude or disinterested – it isn’t your fault.

Then, practice, practice, practice

The “game” can begin ahead of the event beginning. These are a few practices I have to prepare and feel more confident before getting to the room.

  1. Check the guest list. Maybe you see someone you want to meet.
  2. Evaluate directions, timing, and parking. Having logistics under control reduces stress before you’re even on your way.
  3. Pack business cards. This is obvious, but often forgotten. And your challenge should not be to give away or collect as many as you can. It comes off as sleazy, so if you focus on quality over quantity, you’re in a good place.
  4. Research speakers or attendees. If you are attending a panel or event with a speaker, you can gain some insight about why others might be there as well or if there are products or services that could provide a partnership opportunity (another reason for business cards!)

Once I walk in the door, there are a few approaches I take to make my life easier and increase the opportunities to build connections. Here is what I do once I’m at a networking event.

  1. Carry as little as possible so it is easier to shake hands. Holding bags and coats requires constant adjustment and takes away from full engagement. The coat rack is a great place to greet other attendees!
  2. Grab a drink of water first thing. A quick glass will help with any thirst and limit the likelihood you might get dry later.
  3. Avoid all other food and beverage if possible, until you can be seated. I try to come already caffeinated and having had a snack, or an early meal. When you are hungry, you aren’t focused on the conversation. Avoid the food and avoid the stain or spill.
  4. Wear a smile. This isn’t a ginormous grin from your high school yearbook, but is something friendly that makes you approachable.
  5. Walk slowly into the room. This goes great with the glass of water tip. See if you know anyone or spot anyone else who might be looking for someone to talk to. If you’re alone, this can help you find your entry and direction into the room.
  6. Separate from anyone you came with. If you didn’t come alone, see if either of you can make introductions to new contacts. In the case where there are no mutual connections, separate yourselves to start. Hold off on re-uniting until you can make introductions.
  7. Keep the cell phone out of sight. People will assume you are too busy to chat if on your phone – no one considers you are scrolling through social media posts hoping someone will say hi. It shows immense disinterest in the people and the event. Why did you bother showing up? You’re here to get better!
  8. Greet everyone you walk by. Even if people are already in groups, making eye contact and saying hello and something like “how are you?” can be a good ice breaker. You might be invited into a group, or be able to determine who might be easy to talk to later.
  9. Ask tons of questions of other people. Why did they come to this event? What interesting projects are they working on? Did you see the game or show last night? By asking questions, you show interest in the other person. That allows someone to feel more at ease talking to you.
  10. Inquire about sharing opportunities. This goes beyond swapping business cards (but please do that!). You need to see if there is a chance for future connection.
  11. Know when the conversation should end, and thank the person for their time. It is the little things that make a difference to people, so end the communication politely and on a high note.

And once at home or back at the office, there are a few things left to finish the networking experience:

  1. Recap what you learned. This is especially important for when you attended a professional development event or discovered unpublished/non-public information.
  2. Keep promises. If you said you would follow up or are interested in talking to someone further, send an email to start.
  3. Add contacts to your system. Whether in your phone, an app that scans and organizes business cards, placing in a Rolodex or organizing system (some people still use these and love them!), or entering in Outlook, make sure to keep the info of people you want to keep in touch with. Add highlights of the conversation into the description section along with the date and event where you met.
  4. Continuing the conversation on LinkedIn. Use the internet to your advantage! Don’t forget to send a custom note with the invite. This is a great way to learn more about the other person based on what they share.

These are all practices that should make it easier for you to not have to stress with networking events. Perhaps armed with this knowledge you might even sign up for a few more you were afraid to attend!

Showing up to a networking event ready to mingle with other professionals may find you friends, new colleagues, a job, or a client. Make sure the first event you go to is not your last. Try different organizations and varying topics. Ask others what events they like attending. Once you become more confident with networking events, it will be easier to have fun and take advantage of more opportunities!

How have you conquered networking? Is there anything that still scares you walking into a room? Do you think these suggestions will help you feel more at ease and make better connections?


The Right Ways to Accept Praise From Others

Have you ever found yourself frustrated with life, and someone says the right thing at the right time to change your outlook? On Friday this past week, I received an incredibly humbling surprise at work. Reflecting on it, I was wondering about the right response approach.

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A local executive in my office, from a different functional group, walked into my office unexpectedly. The team atmosphere in my office is great, so his walking in was not out of the norm in our company culture. What was said, and the enthusiasm with which is was said, was not out of the norm either. But it was still, to me, an extremely pleasant surprise!

The project he was coming to talk to me about had been a fantastic growth and experience opportunity, but a tremendous challenge. I was working fairly independently in a new direction and experiencing doubt, imposter syndrome, and fear that I might not be capable. This executive came to share praise for the efforts on this particular project. He noted that the overwhelming success to date on an extremely complicated project was something to be proud of because of how rare this level of success is, even without the inherent complexity. The team had banded together along the way, but the executive was specific about my role on top of praising the team.

How amazing was this! A sweet cap to a week that was challenging because of two sick dogs at home, requiring us to rearrange two work schedules, full site visits for me and experiments for my husband, for vet visits, accompanied by poor nights’ sleep making sure the pups were taken care of.

How to receive praise?

I immediately sent a text to my husband to share the exciting event that had just happened. He was clearly delighted also. On the commuter rail ride home I got a high five (this is how we roll, ha!) and a kiss in congratulations. As we were catching up on this and other events of the day, the thought kept coming back into my head if I had received the praise properly.

Whether at home, socially, or in the workplace, it seems like there is never enough praise or appreciation. Some of this may have to do with how we receive it, and how that impacts how willing someone might be to share it with us. If it seems like someone doesn’t want something, even a good word, why would another person continue to make the effort to give it?

Here are some approaches to receive praise the right way, and to ensure you continue to be recognized for your good work.

Acknowledge the praise

When you receive praise, it is important to acknowledge and accept the praise, first for yourself internally and secondly from the person giving it to you. It feels great to know that someone cares about your success and recognizes your efforts in that success.

Say thank you

This is a simple action that most of us learn as toddlers. Part of the acknowledgment of receiving praise is expressing thanks. Read on for ways to say thank you! When someone shares a kindness, it is important to recognize that compliment or favor. The appreciation  

Don’t deflect

Someone is taking the time out of their day to give you praise or thanks for something you did. Unless you didn’t truly play a role at all, the acceptance and thanks will be all you need. When you deflect praise that is rightfully yours, it makes the giver uncomfortable. If someone is uncomfortable, why would they want to give you praise again?

If you truly had nothing to do with the reason for the praise, make sure to recognize the proper people. In the situation where you’re on a team making success happen, allow yourself to accept for yourself and the team. Something like, “thank you, I appreciate you saying that! I’ve been working hard with the team on the execution and Jenny and Andrew really helped make it happen” does just that.

Pass it on if for you and others

Make sure to pass on the praise if you are acknowledged as the leader or part of a team. Be mindful of how other people like to be praised. Some people enjoy public praise in front of their peers, while others are more reserved and private.

Accept the praise as truth

The person giving praise is doing so because they feel you are deserving. If it honestly was no big deal, try revelling (internally!) in the fact that what seems easy or normal for you is impressive to others. Denying the praise is a reflection on the person giving it, insinuating that they are wrong (unless of course, the praise does not reflect the real situation).

Ways to say thank you

One of the many lessons I learned from my grandfather was to be thoughtful about how I said thanks. It assumed the necessity and practice of saying thank you, and recognized the need to acknowledge those who were thanking me.

Try saying:

  • Thank you too! This shows appreciation for the other person and their role in the accomplishment. People are often surprised by this response because they are not expecting to be thanked back!
  • It was my pleasure! If you enjoyed the act that preceded the praise, this phrase can highlight your team-player aspects and show that you are a positive person who cares about contributing to the greater cause.
  • This means a lot to me Expressing your personal feelings can build a relationship because you are open and honest. This is a professional phrase that exhibits vulnerability while saying thank you.

Try avoiding:

  • You’re welcome But, you ask, isn’t this the normal thing to say in American culture? Yes, though it can be improved by some of the above options. By saying “you’re welcome”, it can feel like you’re placing a burden on the other person.
  • Not a problem/No big deal When you mention a word like problem, the listener hears it as “this was a problem to you,” whether or not it is true. This response comes off as insincere, even if you were happy to do it.  

Moving Forward

Some of these approaches require only minor modification to thought process and behaviors that might feel like natural responses. With a little consciousness and attention to how others react to our reactions, we can change how we are perceived and hopefully receive more praise. If we don’t pay attention to these kinds of attitudes or act in the right way, we can be seen as difficult to work with. It doesn’t take a major life adjustment to become a better family member, friend, and colleague. Small steps can make a big difference!

My grandfather’s advice seemed counterintuitive when he gave it to me in high school. Looking back after putting it into practice, I realized he had a keen sense of how people feel and want to feel interacting with others. Don’t we all want to feel great about all of our relationships? Accepting praise in the right way can be a differentiator.

Have you tried receiving praise in a different way before? How do others react to you when you give them praise, and how does it make you feel?


Ideas and Creativity with Execution

Have you ever read a book that hit you right in the moment, that answered every question or wonder you were imagining? For me, that was “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert, who also wrote “Eat, Pray, Love.” I never read the latter book, but the former is everything I could have been hoping for as I have been in a mindset considering creativity over the past several weeks. The day after I wrote the post about the importance of giving yourself permission, I read a chapter in the book about giving yourself permission. It was like the world was coming together for me in support of creative endeavors!

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Creativity involves bringing original ideas to life. I don’t consider myself an artist, with paint or clay or any special materials or medium, but a creator who translates my ideas into words on a page (or a screen). If you’re a reader, you’ll understand that there is artistry to the written word (though I am not trying to claim artistry here!). Artistry and creativity do take many forms. My coloring skills would leave something to be desired! What do you create with?

When you think of creativity in its form of turning ideas into reality, the wider doors open to what it means to be creative. If you think about the concept of innovation, which is a highly creative activity, it isn’t about creating something completely new, but rather changing how something is used, manufactured, sold, transported – basically, innovation is a variation on a theme. A new look at something “old”. With all that technology has brought us, from the telegraph to the telephone to the cell phone to the smart phone, someone was creative enough to imagine something differently and find the ways to execute on it.

That might be the key to creativity – that we have to take action on our ideas. Thinking and journaling and talking mean nothing without follow through and implementation or experimentation. How can you consider yourself a creative person if you haven’t put pen to paper or molded something physically? Starting, no matter how good or bad the idea seems, is an important part of the process. Admittedly, I haven’t taken a lot of action yet on my ideas. My hope is to solve problems that impact business performance and how people live their lives. What can be done differently? Or better? The enemy of creativity in action is hearing “this is how it has always been done.” To me, this is a rallying cry that we can find a better way, and it spawns moments deep in thought of how to try to take things to the next level.

If you have ever read anything by James Altucher, you’ll know that he is a proponent of coming up with 10 ideas each day to turn yourself into an “idea machine”, the thought being that ideas beget ideas, and that as coming up with 10 becomes more routine, you’ll have more to draw from to execute on.

This is where I find the power of practice comes in with creativity. You can’t be an expert from the start. Even the masters, as talented as they are and were, need to refine their skill and, I think this is most important, experiment with style, direction, intent, and approach. The experimentation can be purely organic, or can be inspired – by other people, others works, something completely different, nature, and beyond. Opening yourself up to opportunity and seeing the world, or even just your neighborhood, in new lights can encourage you to think in different ways and approach your creativity and execution differently.

Here are a few of the easy ways I make attempts to open up my world. On many occasions I am finding my inspiration for ideas. Just yesterday, during a morning workout around the neighborhood, I was inspired about a whole bunch of ideas to write about that you’ll see in coming weeks.

  1. Reading opens many doors for me to ideas and creation. I tend to read more non-fiction than fiction, but for every two to three non fiction books I read, I do read a fiction book to reset my mind and escape into another world.
  2. Writing everything down, and going back to it. Sometimes it is just ideas, and sometimes a full post that doesn’t feel right, and sometimes it is from journaling.
  3. Walking instead of driving, or, riding in the passenger seat. This allows a new perspective. When we drive, it all goes by so quickly, even with lowered speed limits in many towns.
  4. Listening to podcasts. Getting a new perspective or even a twist on my current perspective can make me think of something new I want to try.
  5. Having meaningful conversations that include a lot of questions. “What do you think about…”, “how do you feel…”,  “what if…”, “just playing devil’s advocate, but…” are some examples I use and I hear friends use that end up sparking the ideas and new approaches

But when I get out into the world, and have one idea, usually another spawns from it. And another. And yet another! It goes back to what I mentioned above on practice. What happens when you are overwhelmed in the best way by a million ideas? This is a great problem to have! How do you capture the ideas when they are flowing so quickly? It is a rush to write things down.

  1. Always carry a notebook, or use a notebook app on the phone (I am forever carrying a notebook with me)
  2. Send yourself an email (this is especially easy when I am walking or running)
  3. Voice recordings on phone, or leave yourself a voicemail
  4. Call, email, or message someone about it to discuss further

In what other ways do you capture your ideas?

The biggest trouble I have with my own ideas is the struggle choosing which ideas I should pursue. I end up doing nothing, instead of something. My almost-creative ideas live (or die) in a journal moleskine notebook, or maybe a spiral bound from CVS. I should do more so that I can fail, or even be overwhelmingly successful beyond all of my expectations. Is it human to be able to fear our success, more than our failures? That may be a discussion topic for another time!

How do you come up with your ideas? Has practicing any particular technique over time helped you get better? What do you so that you get started on your ideas?


Stop Waiting: Give Yourself Permission

It blew my mind as a kid and all the way past college when my family or friends would order at a restaurant and customize their request from what was a detailed description on the menu. If the establishment already laid everything out for you, why would you change something? Wouldn’t you get something different if you didn’t want one component of the meal?

I wasn’t jealous of these family and friends, but perplexed (okay, maybe I was jealous at what seemed like freedom to do whatever they wanted!). And it was because I never felt like I had permission to make those changes, and I wondered what authority they had within themselves to be able to do something, that now when I look back is extremely simple, as customizing a menu item to their liking.

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One of the greatest barriers life gives us is feeling like we need permission to begin. It goes beyond a restaurant menu. Living life without permission can make someone feel trapped and without options, leading to constant frustration and feeling like they have no control. Or at least that is how I’ve felt.

Over the years, I’ve been granted permissions by friends and colleagues and family – not that they signed a permission slip or always explicitly said “I grant you permission” (thought sometimes they did!). On most occasions it is a suggestion I felt was out of the realm of possibility. When I was dealing with a vendor who was frustrating me and falling down on the job and seemingly not caring about it, a colleague told me to “go red” and lay down the law. It was not something that was comfortable or natural for me. My natural expectations include making a professional request, expecting the same respect with communication and timeliness, and then if my request cannot be met, be told about that and how it will be addressed. This situation went beyond that, multiple times. To do something like “go red” and express my frustration about what needed to happen felt like something I needed permission to go do. And, oh gosh, do I wish I had given myself permission to do this years ago!

Even on the home front, I do silly permission requests like asking my husband if I can get extra seltzers this week because they are on sale, or maybe now that it is getting warm, the sugar free fudgesicles would be a nice treat to have in the freezer. Thankfully, my husband gets a kick out of this and laughs at the ridiculous nature of my requests. “Why do you need to ask permission?” he always wonders to me.

Why don’t we go after what it is we want? Or need to do? In the example at work, it might have been a fear of what will happen if I do XYZ, not knowing what was coming next. Another potential could have been fear of achieving success or the desired outcome, as strange as it sounds. Part of it was definitely fear of leaving the comfort zone.

The most difficult times with asking for permission are when we keep the requests inside of us. Yearning quietly and secretly for permission does absolutely nothing. The importance of voice is  that its absence may be stronger than its presence, for it creates a black hole that sucks in opportunity around us, instead of expanding our opportunities and impacts if we just go out and take action.

I also see that with needing permission, it holds us back from taking risks, and therefore from the potential to fail. But it also holds us back from the opportunities for success personally and making a difference in the community, the office, or the world.

So what is it we need to do to move on from waiting for permission to be granted, or even asking for it? Here are a few tools that I use, and am constantly working on, to move forward with my life and what I want to accomplish. The more this is top of mind and practiced, the more success I have with getting to what I need to get done, in any situation.

  1. Remind myself I am worthy of having what I want.
  2. Explain internally the rationale of doing what I am thinking of doing, and what good it will bring to a situation.
  3. Tell myself I have permission to do the task or take the new approach or speak up.
  4. Actually do what I gave myself permission to do. Take action, without agonizing about potential steps. Like Nike says in its ad campaign, “just do it.”
  5. Recognize the results of that permission, and congratulate myself for taking the risk.

The congratulatory piece is a little strange and even silly, but it also provides validation on the rewards for the risk taken. This encourages me to give more permission in the future. Almost always, I come out with my desired result or some positive variation of what I wanted when I give myself permission. This reinforces my capabilities, talents, efforts, ideas and goals are all moving in the right direction. It erases another layer of self doubt each and every time.

Figure out what you need to do to grant yourself permission. Feel the freedom of no longer denying yourself what you want and need, in your career and in the rest of your life. There may be a time that you extend yourself too much permission, but that provides learning opportunity. Giving yourself permission is one of the greatest things we can do for ourselves, our happiness, our creativity, and even our relationships. It is free and freeing, expanding the richness of life. I am granting you permission to give yourself permission. Go see the doors the world will open to you now!

Now that you have granted yourself permission, what are you inspired to go off and accomplish?!