7 Lessons to Create Positive Impact Confidently

A little over a month ago, I spent time with 800 women in Texas exploring how we can “inspire the woman, impact the world.” Over the extended weekend that we were convened, we had the opportunity to be educated by experts on growing relationships, supporting people and organizations through crisis, achieving excellence, succeeding through conflict, improving ourselves personally and professionally, delegating, coaching others, and how to engage other volunteers. Do you think this is something that would interest your day to day and the work you are doing?

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What brought these hundreds of women together was a shared experience in our Alpha Gamma Delta sorority – from friendships, a shared purpose, and how our lives have been transformed by this organization over the years. However, some of what impacted me the most from Convention are seven takeaways that can help ANYONE, ANYWHERE who seeks to create positive impact for themselves and the world around them, ranging through career, family, and community.

Here are my seven lessons I learned to create positive impact confidently from my time in Texas – and you don’t have to be an Alpha Gam to benefit!

  1. A small group of people can make a difference. A group of 20 women volunteered at Meals on Wheels San Antonio to help make breakfast packs, and over 1,700 meals were produced in a short window of time. That meant on average, each person produced over 90 meals each. Our ability to create these meals allowed the kitchen team to focus on their responsibilities like keeping the space sanitary for code requirements and remain open to serve those in need. In a city with a population of almost 1.5M, Meals on Wheels has a large audience and 1,700 meals only lasts 2.5 days. This underscored the importance of being involved locally and regularly. Additionally, it showed the power of compound impact of small groups and small donations of time. Showing up when you are able and giving as you can provides immense impact to. Almost 100 people would eat breakfast per person with this effort. Isn’t that incredibly powerful for showing up for only a couple hours? Bringing friends or doing work in a group very quickly multiplies that effort. And, it is more fun!
  2. We need to seek out others unlike us for both mentoring and to be mentored. We were enthralled by the keynote speaker Chef Jeff. Now a celebrity chef, he is a former drug dealer who turned his life around while in prison and after, especially with the support of his now wife. He also credited mentorship, opportunities that encouraged him how to learn, and that there was more to life than being in the streets – a world beyond. Chef Jeff sought advice from others who had achieved monetary success prior to their imprisonment. What Chef Jeff learned, he applied. It took a jail mentor telling Chef Jeff that he was smart and talented for him to believe it, something he hadn’t heard much of during a difficult upbringing. The primary point Chef Jeff encouraged us to remember was to go out and mentor someone in the world who didn’t share our opportunities and experiences. This person should be someone from a different socio-economic sphere, someone with a different skin color or culture than our own. We forget how lucky we are when we surround ourselves with similar people, and that we can offer the same hand up and help others create opportunities with our time, shared knowledge, and belief in someone else. In my own experience, it can be difficult to find a mentor. It can be powerful change when you become that person for someone else, even if you never had it yourself.
  3. The importance of recognizing people who give. The Fraternity (though we are widely recognized as a sorority) rewarded members for years, and in some cases decades, of service to the organization with varying magnitude of recognition. For women who receive these honors, it is incredibly memorable and special. In a professional setting, this may be recognized with promotions, raises, opportunity for special projects, or awards unique to the company or industry. Recognizing people who give in any setting is important because it validates the efforts as being valuable, meaningful, and having had an impact on others. Extraordinary contributions require dedication and time that are finite resources when people balance other commitments and priorities in their life. Whether it is a certificate, trophy, or an update to the business card, honoring a person with appropriate recognition matters. The way someone is recognized should also matter. Recognizing others in front of both peers and superiors, in other words, publicly, makes a case study of what qualifies as exceptional and also expands those who are aware of what is given for incredible efforts and overcoming obstacles to succeed. While not everyone appreciates public attention, it is the surest way to let people know that they are appreciated and what they do matters.
  4. Why it is important to strive for achievement. Achievement should measure the impact that someone or some organization has in what is does for itself and for others. When awards were presented from the Alpha Gamma Delta Foundation for fundraising and in support of fighting hunger initiatives and supporting scholarship and educational endeavors, the room was energized and the cheers thunderous, along with the jingle of the light-up tambourines. Chapters who blew us away in previous conventions continued to take it to the next level, while some new chapters set a strong foundation in what will be a major impact on community for years to come. It doesn’t always matter how you get there, but that you journey toward the destination. Focusing on achievement also guides what efforts are taken, as it defines goals and ideal outcomes. Perfection doesn’t matter, but that we go through the process with our best heart and best efforts forward. Without something to strive for, we lack direction. With something to strive for, we can continue to make positive impact and change.
  5. Make the best of situations with who and what you have. During the first breakout sessions when it appeared a scheduling conflict made one session less useful than its intent, the presenters were able to create bonds and learn from key attendee they had been hoping to meet about transformative efforts. At the same time, we were able to collect most of the International Philanthropy Committee together for an impromptu, in-person meeting. It allowed us to set goals, build the bonds more deeply than over the phone, share ideas, and ask questions. When we do our phone calls over the next few months, we will have understanding about our team members and easily put faces and names together. This helps me personally to add context to tone of voice or how to interpret questions and comments better. When the session didn’t go as planned, it could have been viewed as a lost cause. But in small groups with a change of plans and altered execution, we made positive progress toward goals anyhow!
  6. The connections we make with others are what make life meaningful. Relationships are at the heart of what makes life so enjoyable. No matter what form they come in – friendship, professional, romantic – we are provided with a person who brings joy, offers encouragement, lifts us, and teaches us. For Alpha Gam, the 800 women in the room already shared the same Purpose to define our public values. The Purpose guides us and binds us already, so even as we make new friends, we start at an elevated level. When I think of this in a professional context, we are very much on the same team as colleagues – the more success we contribute to and create as an organization, the greater the opportunities are for all of us, and the more fun it is to work together. What I remember most fondly are not the breakout or business sessions, but the time having lunch together, sharing conversation and coffee, and catching up with my roommate, to name just a few examples.
  7. Organic change is not enough. Isaac Newton, the eminent British physicist, declared in his first law of motion what we commonly hear as an object at rest will stay at rest, and an object in motion will stay in motion, unless an outside force acts upon the object. As time passes, adoption of standards, philosophies, and technologies naturally come into our life. However, in organizations and for moving society forward, it takes thought, vision, risk, and courage to change programs, norms, and behaviors from what was to what will carry us forward, and it is better to carry forward than be left in the dust. With new generations rising, we need to adjust to make sorority meaningful and valuable – our grandmothers and Founders would have desired a different experience, whether a suffragette or accepting of status quo. Advancement as a sorority, corporations, and nations require that we act swiftly yet thoughtfully, always looking ahead and continuing to move, rather than standing safely in our place. We cannot rely on the change by others to guide us, but must steer our ship through storms of change to get to our destination of becoming better and doing better.

 

So for me, and for you if you joined an organization that extends beyond the college years, Alpha Gamma Delta is for life. Those vows we made as collegiate women were bigger than we realized at the time, creating foundations and opportunities for friendship and bold influence on the world around us. The lessons I learned as a collegian ten years ago and what I learned at convention a month ago stay with me and are my inspiration to continue to strive to do better for myself, those around me at home and in career, and my community at large.

But, even if you are not a member of an organization like Alpha Gam, these are lessons that apply to work, home, the community, and life generally. The lessons outlined represent what can make an influence in our corporations, non-profits, and families. They are also effective inter-personally.

Which of the seven lessons resonates the most with you? How do you apply it, or hope to apply it, in your life?

Stand Up For Yourself (#5 of 6 – Lessons That Impact Life)

This is fifth in a series of six posts about lessons I learned from my grandfather that apply to career growth and development, in addition to just being generally good advice for life. This is in his memory and in honor of Father’s Day.

Who else was a shy kid growing up? It doesn’t make things easier to try and shift into the background when you want to be part of everything. Sometimes, to avoid other kids being mean, you do make that background shift and decide not to fight back. Though I didn’t always admire his methods, I did admire that my grandfather would stand up for himself. It was an example that helped me build some courage when I was younger, and that in turn helped me be a better self advocate and leader as I grew into a professional.

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For many years in our neighborhood, we would play games but have teams with odd numbers of players. We would come up with creative solutions to make basketball and wiffle ball and any other game work for us. Sometimes we dragged in unwilling sisters and brothers, or younger siblings tagging along who weren’t quite ready, but we needed to include them. We wanted to play, the weather was good, and we did what we felt we had to do.

One year, a new family moved in. The thought of more kids to even out our teams and play with was exciting, but we found out quickly the brother was not who we were hoping for and the sister had zero interest in playing with us. Despite being in the same age range, this brother had a strange “maturity” in his lack of kindness and the power he wanted to have over others. My grandfather was not a fan of the way he treated us, and was sure to let  “Nick” know about it.

Nick, of course, took exception to an old guy telling him how things were, so he began harassing my grandfather as well. Things unfortunately were a little violent from a distance at times, like when Nick and a friend threw soda cans at my grandfather’s house, exploding the brown, sugary insides all over the white vinyl siding. It created a mess and I could tell Pops was frustrated and a little in disbelief that someone would treat another person, never mind a person of his age, that way. He found some pipe cleaners to string together a couple exploded Coke cans and hung them on the oversize letter loop of the mailbox.

“Why did you do that?”, I asked Pops. His answer, while I forget the exact words, were to the tune of “I’m showing him who’s boss.” While I didn’t quite see how that was the case, I appreciated that he took care to make sure he stood up for himself. It made me feel badly that I didn’t do a better job of doing that for him as Nick was only a little younger than me.

From there on out, and from my own absence of action in defense of Pops, I realized that if you didn’t stick up for yourself, there was no guarantee that someone else would do it for you. I learned that I needed to be present and a part of things if I wanted to be a person of impact, that I had to speak up for what I wanted and ask for it. Sitting off to the side and letting others speak for me, even if it didn’t represent how I felt, wasn’t going to be a good way to go through life. This “Nick Soda Incident” and Pops’ reaction was powerful, because it made me rethink my entire approach to life – though I do acknowledge a lack of maturity on behalf of everyone involved. Pops in a way, decided not to really retaliate, but was able to show his dislike of the event by taking ownership of what was meant to scare him.

If that had not happened, and had I not asked Pops all about it, I might not be where I am in my career today. I forced myself to develop “daily courage”. It wasn’t meant to be anything spectacular like running into a burning building to save a life, but the courage to ask for what I wanted and the follow through to ensure higher odds of achieving it. I started running for class offices and student council. I was more vocal on the field and court in my athletic endeavors. I worked to stop worrying how uncool I would look by caring about learning and started asking questions in class. These little behaviors for a shy high school student weren’t changing the world, but they were changing me and setting the stage for me to have a chance later in life to do so.

This daily courage blossomed into having more leadership opportunities, building better relationships, and less stress –  I could just be me. I ended high school on a high note, and it gave me a bit of momentum to go into college and be the best version of me. The improvements and continued attempts of measured risk of putting myself out there helped me to get where I am today in my career, and I know have set the stage for my future, whatever that is. Today, I draw on the courage in professional settings all the time:

  • Deal directly with conflict, whether it is with me or two people on my team. I no longer let it linger, but found ways to address it head on where, when and with whom it matters.
  • I’ve been able to go after career changes that I wanted to pursue. On occasions where I wasn’t having the experience I hoped for, I could speak up for myself. I developed a tenacity in fighting for my opportunities, but keeping it professional.
  • Expressing disagreement on a topic with peers and superiors. I may not “win” most occasions, but by having the conversation I gain a greater understanding of purpose. This extends beyond ourselves to peers and superiors’ understanding of us, also.
  • Giving my opinion and making decisions has been made incredibly easier by having courage and conviction for standing up for what I believe in. There has also been a humility that I’ve developed in case I do end up being wrong, and also for when my strong opinion proved to be right. This helps with all kinds of relationships.
  • When I feel wronged or see it happen to someone else I know, I can say something now. That gives me peace to help myself and others. I hope for the best in people, but when this hope fails I know I can help change people and situations for the better.

Pops, at least in person, never saw me graduate college and develop my career and into I am today. I hope he would be proud of what I’ve accomplished and the independence I’ve cultivated.

When he passed away, we did not have a wake or funeral, at his request. This was always one of the Pops-isms that made me smile a little because it was something that made him uniquely him. It wasn’t out of reducing burden or fear that no one would come, but rather making sure that someone else didn’t have the last laugh at his expense. I thought this was, albeit a little paranoid, a form of courage to make sure his life, including the celebration of his life after his death, would end on a high note. It was what he wanted, and we made sure he had it. But he only had it because he asked for it and stood up for his fears and wants. However that manifests itself for all of us, in life, at work, with family and friends, if we don’t stand up for what we want or for ourselves, who else can we guarantee will do that?

The last remaining post will be published in coming days. Please check back soon!

Best Books of 2018… So Far!

In the first six months of 2018, I was extremely fortunate to have picked some reads that left indelible marks on my life. As frequent readers of this blog know, I am a believer of continuous improvement and that reading can not only have incredible impact, but be life changing. In this post, I will share my top reads and recommendations. I hope you take as much joy and meaning from these books as I did!

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Most of my reading has been non-fiction, as I work to explore new ideas and get better at executing what I’m good at, and also where I need improvement. And sometimes you need a break from high quality research and data driven arguments, so a good fiction book or story can add some enjoyment to all of that learning and growth! Fun is important, too!

Overall, in the first six months of 2018, I have read 29 books. This puts me on pace to be ahead of my goal of 50 books to be read by the end of the year. I am a believer in rating books as it helps me to recall which are the most meaningful and where I might want to refer back to the digital highlights to refresh what I learned.

The chart below breaks out how I rated the books to date:

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Generally, my star break outs get defined as:

  1. Can’t get past the beginning. Skipping ahead provides no value. I’ve found flaws or disagree with the book from an ethics standpoint. ALWAYS a “did not finish” (DNF). This has happened perhaps twice in the past three years or so.
  2. I can get a few chapters in, but it is difficult to read. I question what the author is trying to convey and the methods used. This is rare and almost always a DNF.
  3. This was a decent book. I wouldn’t quite recommend, but there was value in either information or entertainment to keep plowing through as best I could.
  4. A “4 star” book is one that keeps me focused on the message, sometimes difficult to put down, and I would always recommend for the right reader. If I enjoy but it doesn’t blow me away, this is where I rate the book.
  5. A book with this rating is impossible to put down, keeping me mesmerized every page. For the days and weeks following, I am telling everyone I see about the book as a must read. It becomes a small obsession!

So what are those best books, you are wondering? I’ll describe some of my favorite four and five star books below.

Here is a list of my 4-star books that I would recommend:

  • Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Truman Capote. It is easy to see why this is a classic! It was impossible to put down, and even what you might expect to be mundane was dramatic.
  • Authorpreneur, Jesse Tevelow. As one who is aspiring to be a published author (more later in post!), this book was brimming with practical advice for self-publishers.
  • How Will You Measure Your Life?, Clayton Christensen. Contrasting the “all in or else” expectation in business, this book presented a refreshing lifestyle approach.
  • Crucial Conversations, Kerry Patterson. I was riveted by the data, anecdotes, and actionable suggestions in this book to build relationships with all kinds of people.
  • Success Under Stress, Sharon Melnick. Instead of succumbing to unhealthy stress, the author provides opportunities for how we can use stress in our favor for success.
  • The Art of Everyday Assertiveness, Patrick King. Assertiveness is a personal goal and a form of self-respect. Everything offered spun a positive view on the topic.
  • What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, Marshall Goldsmith. This was a reminder that we need to grow, adjust, and remold ourselves as we grow and take on new roles.
  • You Are a Writer, Jeff Goins. The author presents a great case that what we see ourselves as if how we are and project to others. So why not be what we want to be?

Here are my 5-star books and why they were worth reading (in no order):

  • The Art of Power, Thich Nhat Hanh. What a book to start the year with! It was a great re-framing of what power actually is and means and how we can take better control of our lives, ourselves, and our relationships.
  • Necessary Dreams, Anna Fels. Even before I finished this book, I was talking about it to almost everyone I came in contact with. The author stated the issues faced with incredible depth and in a fresh way – I felt like I wasn’t alone, and loved the focus on being active in all areas of life like marriage, social environments, and civic engagement.
  • Own It, Sallie Krawcheck. Though skeptical coming into reading this book, I quickly bought in to all it offered. I loved the practical advice that didn’t encourage me to change who I was, but to be more of me with actionable skill development.
  • The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Ben Horowitz. The title is a perfect reminder that nothing great worth doing is without effort. The stories were magnetizing and the forward commentary was captivating, a look into the real life of technology startups without the glamour we expected.
  • The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood. It was a wake up call for me to take more action in advocating for what is right – and since then I have been more civically active in standing up for what I believe. Because if I don’t and you don’t, this dystopian fiction could become reality.
  • I’m Not For Everyone. Neither Are You., David Leddick. This book reminded me of the importance of individualism and, though this phrase is everywhere, authenticity. We are who we are for a reason. I was uplifted for days after reading this book..
  • The Millionaire Next Door, Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko. While the stats might be out of date, but the concepts are magnetizing. How simple personal finance blogs and authors make things seem, but often without the social science or scientific background as to why certain exercises are indicators of wealth. The conspicuous consumption can be an illusion of wealth.
  • Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert. This book found me more than I found it. The concepts of courage and curiosity when it comes to creativity caught my attention and kept me engaged the whole way through. The concept of being ready for the creativity that finds us was interesting to me because I often have ideas that linger without action, and a year or two later I see MY idea in execution by others.
  • Grit, Angela Duckworth. I loved the sense of what could be if we put into practice what had been successfully researched. The approach to having a philosophy and a driving goal as part of what we were doing on a daily and long-term basis was inspiring to me. The book was not just research and anecdotes, but instructional and actionable on how we, too, can develop grit and help others (namely, our children) develop it also.

Rating all of these books and understanding the impacts they each had on me makes me excited for my own book coming out this fall! The reason I’m excited is not only to achieve a lifelong goal of becoming a published author, but to help fill a needed gap in the sorority experience that connects it with creating career success.

My enthusiasm for this purpose and passion project has been supported by positive feedback from women who have read early editions of the book. I sent copies to 22 sorority women across the USA in eight different National Panhellenic Conference organizations. Everyone believed it hit a sweet spot of what is missing in our mutual sorority experiences, helps explain how to differentiate our valuable experience, and creates an opportunity for positive conversation not just in recruitment, but as alums and women who want to achieve success in our careers. More info to come!

What are the books you are reading? What have been your favorites? Is your rating system similar, or how do you rate differently? I am curious to hear your recommendations as well!

Check out some of my other book recommendations!

2017 First Half

2017 Second Half

11 Techniques to Spark More Ideas in Your Life

As I’ve been on this quest of creativity, I’ve been focused on developing more ideas that I can execute on. However, if you ever talk to my husband, he might tell you that the last thing I need more of is ideas. Though I am a believer of quality over quantity, some quantity of ideas can beget even more ideas. Why shut off the faucet if the water is desired and flowing? A lot of quality ideas can cascade down into a few great concepts worth pursuing. We should strive to come up with as many ideas as is possible if we desire to create anything and have success.

But what to do with these ideas?

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All you need is a little ambition and courage to put your ideas out into the world. I’m still experimenting with this, and am excited about the big splash one certain idea made in my world with self publishing a book later this year. Writing is certainly one outlet, and so is the traditional creative endeavor of art. With the rise of innovation, creativity is entering and transforming not only the workplace, but how people live, use products, transport themselves, and interact with humans, animals, and robots alike.

If you’re inspired to make change in the world around you but aren’t quite sure where to begin, here are some thoughts about coming up with more ideas:

  1. Reading. Take risks with genres you wouldn’t normally pursue, try new authors, and read about things you may have never heard of before. Diversifying your selections allows exposure to new concepts, beliefs, and understandings. Most of my reading revolves around non-fiction, like leadership, management, and personal improvement. But mixing in fiction gives me an opportunity to treat my brain to a break and think about life from someone else’s imagination.
  2. Listening to lyric-free music. As fun as lyrics make songs fun to sing along to, I listen to lyric-free music at work. I find I can be more focused and take the energy of the music and apply it the energy I need to work with and get things done. Some examples I enjoy are movie scores (anything by John Williams is a winner for me), college fight songs, and some of my favorite composers like Tchaikovsky.
  3. Walk or run outside. Either of these activities allow you to get away from the daily grind. Being physical in the fresh air, sunshine, and breeze is freeing and mind opening for me. It is also time away from distraction. On early morning workouts, I often find peace and quiet on the track to think through challenges I need to work through or what excitement is coming in my day.
  4. Meditate. Despite haphazard implementation into my own life, I see multi-day impacts from just one three or five minute session. I am able to think both more broadly and with greater clarity. It gives the ability to assess new and different concepts I couldn’t before. When I am frustrated in both personal and professional settings, I find that the meditation practice, even intermittently, helps me step back and re-frame the situation.
  5. Share the ideas you do have. Expressing ideas to receptive listeners (and especially the devil’s advocates in our lives) forces us to think through details, challenges, and how we might execute. Sharing with someone who asks thoughtful questions can put your idea on a new axis of orientation and spin it in a new direction.
  6. Writing in a journal. Writing down thoughts on a regular basis can free up your mind for a task, have therapeutic benefits, and preserve your ideas for future reference. I like to spend fifteen to twenty minutes a day, sometimes less and sometimes more, reflecting on the events immediately past or upcoming. This writing lets me connect with my feelings and gives an outlet to express and explore. It forces me to come to terms with where I really stand, good and not so good, and practice self-awareness.
  7. Be bored. Creating the optimal time and space to think without anything else going on around you can be tough to carve out. Put your phone away. Close the laptop. Even hide the headphones in the drawer. Being bored lets the brain have a rest from constant stimulation. However, I find that my brain focuses on my thoughts in a relaxing and non urgent manner, unlike meditation, where thoughts pass through. Growing up, being bored forced my imagination and creative side to activate. We made up stories and new sports – boredom forced us to be adventurous in a variety of ways. This can be true as adults, too!
  8. Have interesting conversations. Dig deep, be curious, ask questions. Talk to strangers (carefully). Examine your values with others. Play the contrarian instead of agreeing. Explore the “why” all around you. Get rid of small talk, and truly get to know about someone’s history and purpose and place in this world. Take the topic of weather, a typical point in small talk. Addressing snow or sun might lead to discussing hobbies that are weather based, then onto the entry into those sports, and what benefits someone gets from a lifetime of skiing or hiking.
  9. Try new experiences. How do you learn and adjust to changes? Whether it is trying Thai food for the first time or actually going to explore Thailand, find something in your budget that takes you out of your comfort zone. You may see (or taste) things very differently going forward.
  10. Don’t let anything get in your way. We can be our own worst enemies with ideas. They don’t need to be realistic yet when they are just ideas. Start with no judgment, expectation, or requirement for you ideas. Just let them “be” to begin, and you can take next steps, next!
  11. Practice, practice, practice. I am a horrible free throw shooter, not that I’m a great basketball player anyhow. I loved the game in high school, though, and I experienced the joy in the desire to get better. Practice, when consistent and done whole heartedly, can be a path toward excellence. Ideation takes practice too – pretty soon you’ll be practicing the execution of ideas.

 

One of my personal goals in the coming months is to experiment more with execution, to go beyond the idea phase. Most, if not all, ideas are not perfect on their first iteration, or in theory only. By getting to “ship stage,” execution allows the idea to come to life, to figure out what adjustments are needed to meet the desired goal, and figure out if it will fail or has a chance at successful impact over time. I hope to be a catalyst for positive change in the worlds around me, whether work or home or socially or with organizations I volunteer for. This experimentation goal will take some courage to put myself out there. It might be the same for you.

Coming up with new ideas can be invigorating if you welcome the opportunity to think and try the eleven techniques listed. New ideas excite my passion for life. Ideas ignite the possibility that anything can be possible if I believe it to be so.

What methods do you find best for coming up with ideas? Are you pursuing execution of any of your ideas? Are there additional methods you would add to the list?

 

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?