By: Sharon Berman
Published: Thomson Reuters – Construction Accounting and Taxation
Nearly every successful professional and businessperson has learned how to network. However, networking skills can best be employed when one attends networking events. For many professionals and businesspeople in the real estate and construction “space,” the idea of meeting new people at large industry mixers is daunting. It’s not that these lawyers, CPAs, developers, or other experts are unwilling to expand their professional circles. It’s just that their discomfort becomes a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. Because of this challenge, these otherwise driven businesspeople avoid critical social functions that have the potential to expand their business.
There are always the exceptions—those who have no qualms about walking into a room full of people they don’t know, and actually thrill to the potential it holds—but the majority of professionals I encounter share the same discomfort at the thought of walking into a room full of unfamiliar faces. For them, I encourage employing simple yet effective techniques to help them move past their fears so that they can reap the many benefits these meetings afford.
Be honest with yourself about who you are and what you can accomplish. Take stock of your strengths and play to them. For instance, if you are at your peak later in the day, then plan to attend luncheons and evening programs that are packed with potential referral or deal sources. If you’re more of a morning person, then you’d likely be more comfortable going to breakfast meetings or lunches. While it’s important to align with your strengths, you should also prepare to be flexible. If, for instance, you prefer evening meetings but a construction industry group that you’ve been hoping to penetrate has a breakfast conference planned, you should make arrangements to attend. Other obligations, such as family commitments, also play into this self-assessment. You may have children, a spouse, or older parents who need your attention at a particular time of day. If that’s the case, plan your networking opportunities accordingly.
Consider where you live and work as a deciding factor in which networking opportunities are most valuable to you. If you’re already not enthusiastic about connecting with a roomful of strangers, you’ll likely be less so if that meeting also entails a long commute during rush hour. However, just as you should remain open to change in terms of time when a crucial networking opportunity arises, so should you stay open to attending one that may seem geographically undesirable. If the latter turns out to be the case, be sure to allot enough time to account for any commuting issues you may encounter. This will help minimize stress and ensure your attendance.
Consider that you do not need to stay for an entire meeting. Sometimes, it’s easier to get yourself there if you give yourself permission to leave by a certain time. The important thing is to plan to be at the event for the networking phase, which is often before the event starts. If you happen to be making useful contacts and want to stay longer, then you always have that option. However, you’ve already accomplished what you’ve set out to do—you’ve gotten there.
Determine the most discreet way to exit, generally before the meal begins, and take your leave. Some professionals and businesspeople have built entire practices staying at luncheons and breakfasts only for the networking sessions. You can do this, too.
Attend with a buddy. Chances are if you’re uncomfortable walking into a room full of unfamiliar faces but still want to attend an important industry event, you have a colleague, referral source, or client who feels the same way. Therefore, consider pairing up and attending the event together. Extend the invitation, and, whether that individual can attend or not, you’ll earn kudos for reaching out to that person. If another professional does join you for their own networking purposes, agree prior to the meeting that you will sit at different tables and spend your time talking with new people.
Pay your entrance fees in advance. For many people, knowing that money has already been spent is enough incentive for them to attend an event. If you fall into this category, then paying in advance will help increase the odds that you’ll show up.
Ignore negative self-talk. Despite our best tactics, many of us still fall victim to our internal voices that keep us from expanding our networks.
Replace your negative internal thinking with something more positive:
It’s important to know that you will probably feel uncomfortable at an organization’s event until you’ve attended several meetings. Once you get past that hurdle, your initial discomfort will have been worth it. By the third time you attend a meeting, you’ll recognize peers, and they will know you. From that point on, it will be smooth sailing.
Also, be aware that you may have to push yourself past any feelings of uneasiness. Still, once you’ve attended that first event, regardless of its outcome, you’ll feel as though you’ve accomplished something, and you’ll want to do it again.