I used to be shy. Like I didn’t want to be in a room full of people, felt like I wanted to just stay and hide in my car kind of shy. Back when I was in middle school I went to a brand new school and I didn’t know a soul, but I walked in with my mom’s voice in my ear saying “just smile.” And that’s exactly what I did, I put on a smile and did my best to fake that I felt confident and self-assured.
People who know me might be very surprised to read this because now, I truly love connecting with people and getting their real stories…not the stories that they tell when someone casually asks “how ya doing” surface level stuff, but the things that are important to them and make them who they are.
Here are some tips for being genuine while networking and making genuine connections.
- Smile. A sincere, genuine smile goes a long way to helping yourself feel comfortable and getting people to trust and open up to you.
- Make eye contact and introduce yourself. Hey, I’m Karen McClung, have we met? Tell me your name…Tip: when you introduce yourself with your first and last name, chances are the other person will give you their first and last name. Do your best to remember their name and use it in your conversation, this can help to establish a connection.
- Ask questions. I’m not talking about the typical, surface-level questions of what do you do? Try to be a little more creative than that. Instead try how did you get into your line of work? Try other questions like tell me about where you grew up? What did you love about growing up there? What do you like to do when you aren’t working? These types of questions often lead to a more valuable and deeper conversation.
- Share something. Sharing something about yourself that is funny or memorable. Even better, make it something you’re a little uncomfortable sharing. This makes you a little vulnerable and will help you form deeper connections.
- Connect and follow up. Connect on social media within a day or 2 of meeting and follow up by sending a sincere message saying how nice it was to meet them. If you can include a memorable tid-bit from your conversation to jog their memory, even better!
- Set the next meeting. Invite the person you met to grab a coffee, have a phone conversation, a playdate if you have kids or a cocktail and think of ways you can provide value to them. Whether you’re hoping to get that person as a client, maybe gain a mentor, or just become friends with them, you can’t expect them to reach out. If you are proactive after meeting someone it greatly increases your chances of forming a lasting connection.
Am I an expert on this? No, not at all. I still try to repeat people’s names over and over again in my head and sometimes have to run and type in a note on my phone to help myself remember! I practice this routinely and have found my way into being far less shy because I am more confident in my ability to make the other person feel like I care.
“People don’t care about what you know until they know you care.” Challenge yourself to start more conversations with new people so that in time you can be confident in your networking ability and easily make lasting connections.