As a small business owner, I’ve attended more than my fair share of networking events. When I first started attending networking events, because I am an introvert, I spent more time getting to know the cheese plate and the hor d’oeuvres than anyone else in the room.
Once I got more comfortable, I found myself mingling, but not really “connecting.” What I did do, was collect a copious amount of business cards, and after the event, I’d go home and try to remember whose face went with what card. After collecting a shoebox full of cards, I began to realize the time, energy and effort of attending these events wasn’t paying off for me. It was frustrating to me, because many of my colleagues were boasting that networking was the only way to go -and their businesses were booming as a result of their attendance of these things. So why wasn’t it working for me?
It was when I took my dog, Lexi to a dog park when the answer to that question came to me. This particular dog park was the “fenced-in” variety. Basically, you bring your dog into an enclosed area, and unleash them so they can mingle with a bunch of other dogs. Lexi, who has no qualms about introducing herself immediately ran up to the largest group of dogs and started play-bowing and sniffing tails. She was in her glory. I noticed there was a pretty, little collie mix that hung back on the edge of the fence. She looked nervous at times, and then yawned as if bored. I felt like I could relate to her – all she needed was a cheese platter, hor d’oeuvres and a fist full of business cards to complete the scene.
One of the volunteers dumped a bucket of tennis balls into the fray- and suddenly, the playing field changed. The dogs that were already mingling and getting to know one another stopped momentarily to notice all the bouncy objects around their feet. That is when the collie on the edge of the fence she made her move. She galloped into the middle of the pack, grabbed a tennis ball from the feet of a large Rottweiler and ran, looking back playfully to see if he would come after her. And he did. Game on. I watched her interaction as she play bowed, made eye contact, and romped after another dog as he stole her prize, and she was determined to get it back. She was brilliant at observing other dogs reactions, figuring out which one she could engage, and which ones who were better left alone to hoard their own tennis balls. As she zipped, dashed, and played, she became a rockstar to the pack. Other social dogs (including my Lexi) sought her out, chased her and wanted to be with her. She had gone from wallflower to wonderful in a matter of minutes. It was then I realized that I needed to be more like this rock-star collie and find a way to make networking events FUN and ENGAGING, so I can thrive in my element, and attract like-minded people to me. I am not in the business of collecting business cards, I am in the business of cultivating relationships. Mingling and repeating an elevator speech over and over and over again is not my strong suit. Like the collie, being active, authentic and playful is my nature, and anytime you follow your true nature, you engage your authentic being.
So how can you go from wallflower to wonderful? Think about the activities that bring out your best authentic self. Biking, hiking, walking, or maybe even cooking, knitting, or bowling. Create a meetup or rummage through that box of business cards and invite people out to connect over those activities. When out networking, instead of asking people about their businesses, ask them “Hey, do you like to scrapbook?”…. Cultivate relationships – stop collecting business cards. Be a collie.
Do you have a great tip on how you make connections? Please share!
Hit the Heights!
Priscilla Hansen, The Natural Leadership and Business Guide