Today’s Morning Buzz is by Kayla Barber-Perrotta, Budget & Performance Manager at the City of Brighton, CO. Connect on Linkedin.
What I’m reading: The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business by Patrick M. Lencioni
What I’m watching: Suits
What I’m Most Excited About: I am taking a trip to Europe in a few weeks. It is a trip I’ve been saving for over eight years and I cannot wait!
Over the last year, I had ample opportunity to practice my networking skills. From the ELGL Annual Conference to more intimate gatherings of the local Chamber of Commerce, I was thrown into several situations where networking was required, and it was brutal.
It may come as a surprise to those who know me, but I am not a banner-waving extrovert. On every temperament test I land somewhere in the middle – either 49% introvert, 51% extrovert or vice versa. I can handle large groups and socializing, and once I get into the rhythm, I even actually love them. However, I have a very hard time starting a conversation or joining a group, and I get exhausted after just an hour or two.
Heading into every conference I dread the networking events on the schedule. They simply stress me out. Networking is like that Carly Rae Jepsen song, Call Me Maybe.
Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy…
**pulls out business card**
But here’s my number… so call me, maybe.
You can’t help having to do it, but it nevertheless has a certain cringe factor and general awkwardness. That being said, across my decade of working in local government and finding myself increasingly in these networking situations, I discovered a few techniques that help me to relieve some of the networking stress.
- Acknowledging the awkwardness: I am not alone in finding it uncomfortable to force myself into a conversation with strangers, and it has become my go-to opener to simply acknowledge the strangeness of the whole situation. A few weeks ago I was at the ICMA Reimagined Conference, and arrived at the networking event a bit late. People were already in their groups and I was very much on the outside. After searching for a group with a large enough gap for me to squeeze into, I waited for a lull in their conversation and then stepped up and told them outright, “Sorry, but do you mind if I join you guys? I’ve just been awkwardly standing over here trying to figure out how to join a conversation.” It actually worked really well as we all briefly commiserated over similar experiences before delving into a meatier conversation.
- Listen: Early on I felt an intense pressure to talk about myself when networking. In my mind it was something akin to an interview, and I needed to prove that I deserved to be in the conversation. Shifting my mindset from needing to introduce myself to a mindset of learning about others not only took tremendous pressure off myself, it helped me to create more meaningful connections. Now I make sure to lead with questions about the people I am talking to. I open with the usual what do you do and where questions, and then start asking them about the cool things they are doing, or their biggest pain points. I make sure I am listening, and look to ask one or two follow-up questions. I also prepare my own answers to these questions ahead of time, as I have found that most of the time people will turn those questions back on me. It gets the ball rolling and conversations are usually able to flow at that point.
- Digitize Your Business Card: I am awful with names. If I see someone’s face I can recognize them and remember a few interesting tidbits about them, but I need to meet someone five or six times before I will remember their name or where they work. My brain just isn’t wired with that kind of recall. That is why I am so reliant on business cards. I used to carry a stack of several dozen to each conference to trade with people, but I found over the years that many people did not have a card and, if I gave them mine, it was hit or miss on if we would ever connect again.
Luckily, last year I was introduced to the digital business card, and it has been a game changer. I personally use the Blinq app since it is free, and is the one I was introduced to, but there are many options on the market. Instead of needing a physical card, I simply open the app and have the person I am talking to scan the QR code. They instantly get my Linkedin, email, and website and can choose how they want to connect. My completed connections have noticeably improved since doing this as it is so easy for people to use, rather than relying on them to follow-up later down the line.