April 11, 2018

Professional Development

This One Secret Will Make Your Future Networking Way More Fun

By: Laurel Buckley Abraham

As a natural introvert, I’m most comfortable perched in my home office crunching numbers in an Excel spreadsheet, drafting emails until I psyche myself up for the time when I have to actually speak to other people.

With a little more than two weeks until I host a multi-state lawmakers panel for the Grand Rapids chapter of AFF, I find myself asking, “How did someone whose happy place is sitting alone in a room with a computer and an Excel sheet come to have such an outward facing role?”

It’s simple, I learned, practiced, honed, and developed one skill: how to have a good time, every time I meet someone new.

Now, I admit, even writing this, it sounds a little unrealistic. But trust me, this is a skill, and one you can develop.

I first learned about this skill when I discovered my love of icebreaker games (like the ones you play at mandatory office meetings). I self-evaluated: what did I enjoy about these games? In finding the answer, I had the key to how to have a good time meeting anyone.

But before I divulge that secret, you first have to master the rules of the game. In networking, that starts with rule number one: presenting yourself in a clean, professional, and articulate way. Come prepared with a few questions to get the conversation started.

Then, you must prepare a few comments about yourself. Be sure to make them unique and interesting, so you leave a memorable impression. For introverts like myself, this can be a challenge. But like any Oscar-ready performance, there is no shame in preparing and practicing. Try thinking of the basics with a twist: why did you choose your profession? What did you love about your college? If you could spend an entire day somewhere, where would you go?

Finally, you have to listen, pay attention to what others tell you, and remember one or two key details about them.

Those are the rules to the game.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Laurel, I’ve heard it all before. How is this going to make me more comfortable?”

I understand. Believe me. This is where the secret comes in. You also have to do one more thing: put expectations out of your mind.

I love competition as much as the next person, but the point of these games is to have fun, which is what your focus should be every time you meet someone new. Focus your time on enjoying that experience.

Think of an awkward interaction you had with someone when you wanted to make a good impression. The uncomfortable first date. The stressful job interview. The panic attack from walking into the AFF “Welcome to Washington” event.

I’m with you. I’ve felt the same way. And trust me, as a fundraiser by trade, I understand that nothing is quite as pungent as the stink of desperation. But you can rid yourself of that needy odor by putting aside your expectations of what you think “networking” should be like and focus instead on getting to know the person in front of you.

In order to truly make a connection with someone, you have to genuinely care about him or her. That’s going to help you build the best network and truly enjoy yourself while doing it.

But there’s only one way to test my theory: practice. Use the scientific method, replicate my experiment, and see if you get the same results.