In those first few precious seconds of meeting someone new, they have already made dozens of assumptions about you.
Some of them might even be accurate.
Our amygdala, that part of our brain responsible for fight-or-flight, is wired to make decisions about our surroundings before our sensible thoughts can catch up. We immediately decide whether we like someone or whether we want to run away from them. We subconsciously calculate personal risks to our wellbeing and forecast various hypothetical scenarios in our minds based on very little information. Because of that, according to a large body of scientific research, our first impressions are most often inaccurate.
If people we meet are drawing conclusions about who we are and what we are like, wouldn’t you agree that it’s important to increase self-awareness of our non-verbal signals, our body language and facial expressions?
At a networking event, attendees are sizing up folks in the crowd, determining in split seconds which individuals they are drawn toward.
If we unknowingly send signals that we are planning to 'hard sell' someone on our products or services, or that we are riddled with anxiety, our unintended result might be to alienate ourselves within the first few seconds of entering a room.
The next time you are at a networking event, try keeping your hands free, your posture open and inviting, your face smiling, and your devices in your pocket. Yes, your mobile wonderphone is unquestionably valuable for exchanging contact information, posting on social media in real-time, and even Googling a potential mutual connection for confirmation that you and your new friend are not complete strangers (if you live on the East Coast of Canada…you likely appreciate how often this happens!) - but heads-down screen time is not sending the message that you wish to make human contact.
Find ways to be genuinely interested in your new connections. Instead of hitting the same old whatdoyoudoforaliving snooze button, consider that some people are networking because they don’t actually like what they do for a living and are seeking their next career move – don’t kill the conversation (and their mood) with that predictable question. Consider the venue, the purpose of the event, even the time of year, and ask relevant questions. For example, if it is late August, you may ask about their summer reading list or vacation adventures or what excites them about Fall.
Activate the conversation. Tease out information about your newfound friend.
People will remember you for their interest in them, for how you made them feel (and you are making them feel important by asking them questions and then listening intently).
The ratio at networking events is such that connecting with every single person is unlikely. Attempting to do so may come across as superficial and disingenuous. Instead, pick a few people with whom you'd like to connect and make a point of learning something new about them.
Consider also the angst that some people experience in social settings. If you see people on the periphery, introduce yourself or find ways to introduce them to other people. Be mindful of the tendency of people-clusters to face inward, a dynamic that creates a potentially insurmountable barrier for some; alternatively, offer a gap in your circle for newcomers to naturally join without feeling they are intruding.
Some people are naturally extroverted, and we may assume that those effective at networking fall into this category. The reality, however, is that regardless of which side of the -vert you identify, presenting yourself through networking is, like most skills, refined with practice. Self-awareness, letting our thoughts catch up with our amygdala, humility, inquisitive conversation starters, approachability and being inclusive – these and other networking strategies can help us to 'present' ourselves well, to draw people in and to establish meaningful connections.
Better the magnet, than the repellent.
- Tisha Parker Kemp
Photo credit: Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels.
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