Networking for the Feint of Heart

I’ve read a lot lately about networking. It’s a “must do” for any professional career…but for SIG, it’s the difference between success and failure. SIG is defined by our ability to provide opportunities for our members to share best practices and thought leadership. How? By connecting them with other sourcing, outsourcing and procurement professionals. We offer online opportunities with Webinars, Town Hall Teleconferences and P2Ps (Peer-to-Peer resources), and of course with live events, such as Global SummitsSymposiums and Regional Roundtables. This week alone we’ve had one Symposium (in Toronto), a Regional Roundtable in Chicago (at McDonald’s Hamburger University…how cool is that?!), a Town Hall Teleconference two Webinars and two P2Ps. It’s a busy week—but it’s what our members need to hear the latest industry standards and benchmark with others in this function. We love what we do and we try to make our events hassle-free and accessible. But based on some of the articles I’ve recently read, I’m reminded that live networking is not something that comes easily to most people. In fact, some of the best public speakers I know absolutely cringe when they have to mingle. So what can you do to enhance your networking outcome when you are at a conference or an event?

  • Show up. Sounds kind of silly, but the truth of the matter is that people who don’t thrive on networking, don’t even like to put themselves in situations where they are forced to do it, so they attend conferences for learning and networking…and then avoid the actual networking opportunities like the plague. If you just show up, you will be surprised by what might happen. You might just meet someone that can help you address a problem you are facing.
  • Find a face in the crowd that looks even more uncomfortable than you feel. I guarantee that someone is out there dying to start a conversation, but unsure how. Take a risk…you might even open with, “Do you hate networking as much as I do?” and see if they don’t appreciate someone voicing what they feel.
  • Look for something you might have in common. At SIG Summits we put a “first timer” sticker on every newcomer’s nametag. Each Summit we choose something different (cowboy boots in Nashville, palm trees in San Diego, even crabs in Baltimore…talk about a conversation starter!). The point is that if you have absolutely nothing else to say, you can always walk up to someone and start with, “I see that you’re a ‘cowboy boot’ too. Where are you from?” and voila, instant conversation. Or if you notice that they work for a particular company, ask what they do for them or where they are from.
  • Ask open-ended questions, listen and engage in the response. Let’s face it, we all enjoy talking to people who seem genuinely interested in what we have to say. So ask a question, listen, then provide a thoughtful and relevant response. Nothing is worse than when you talk to someone and realize they are not listening to anything you are saying. I have a former colleague and friend who is quick to share the latest news in her life, but won’t ask you a single question about yours—even if the conversation is steered in that direction. Charisma will take you a long way, but if you want to develop trust and respect, act like that person is the only one in the room and show interest.
  • Jot down notes on the back of business cards. People like it when you remember something they told you. Not only is it a great conversation starter later, but in a business context, they may tell you something you’ll want to draw on down the road, or even better if you can email or call them with some information they were seeking, they are not likely to forget you.

For a list of great sourcing questions to start a conversation, read a recent blog by our own Mary Zampino. Or for other networking tips, check out this Passive Panda blog by James Clear or recent Inc. article by Eric Holtzclaw. Both give tangible advice for the networking feint of heart! If all else fails, when you are networking at an event, find one of the organizers…they are often thrilled to have the opportunity to slow down for a minute and talk to someone! Just ask me!