By Nevena Rousseva
Networking can be painful for many. We go to networking events and feel awkward, nervous and paralyzed. We meet someone at a social gathering but don’t know how to introduce ourselves, or talk about what we do in a natural manner that can lead to new opportunities. So what are the keys to effective networking?
For this I turned to Jessica Chamberlin. Jessica is tall, blonde, dressed impeccably, oozes confidence and smiles with her eyes. She is the founder and CEO of Creative Human Capital, a consulting and human resource company that enables CEOs, entrepreneurs, enterprises, athletes, and creatives of all type, to maximize their scope, vision, and deep thinking that is needed in order to take a company or individual from start-up to a full-fledged business. Jessica is also one of the best networkers I’ve met and seen in action. She finds all her clients exclusively through networking. How does she do it?
Jessica sat with me and share her insight on successful networking as well as her resources that helped her along the way. (See bottom for a list of resources.)
1. Everyone talks about the power of networking and making connections with people, but walking up to a stranger and talking about what you do can be intimidating at first. Do you have any ice breakers when starting a conversation?
Firstly, for me, networking is an entirely intuitive, yet extremely generous activity and like anything it takes a lot of practice. I always start by giving first. My father (who is a rough and tumble carpenter and farmer) has always said, “It’s not who you know, but who you blow away.” Meaning, it’s who you build a relationship with, who likes you, who trusts you.
Specifically, I don’t ever use any lines or ice breakers. Sure I have a couple of silly jokes I like to use if it comes up in the course of conversation, but the real way I break the ice is by first paying very close attention to the ideas, aspirations, clothing, mannerisms of the person. I listen and observe and often don’t move until I find something about them that is compelling or unique.
Initially, I keep it very, very simple. I say, “Hello”, I am warm, friendly, direct, but not imposing. I call it “Holding the Space”. This allows me to listen to both the person, and my intuition. I ask for advice and insights. I offer advice, insights, compliments. It is an exchange of energy and information.
When I approach a person, I like to hear all about who and what they are about, what matters to them. I pick out something about them that is unique or differentiating. As best I can, I never focus on what I’m looking to get.
2. What are some keys to networking effectively?
Feel relaxed and present in the moment. Personally, I find meditating and exercising are the most essential tools for networking. Because networking is so intuitive and requires patience and a sense of generosity, anything I can do to help myself feel more relaxed and present in my body, helps my connection to others.
In fact, I attend a weekly BNI (Business Networking International) meeting every Tuesday at 6:45 am and I wake up at 4:30 am just to do an hour of meditation before the meeting. I want to make sure that I am as clean, clear and present as I can possibly be for the meeting. It helps me feel more alert, awake, and responsive in the meeting.
Listen. And listen more. And more. A lot of my best ways for expressing and explaining what I do have come from other people giving me direct feedback as they suss out, from their own point of view what I do.
Read. Read. Read. Magazines, blogs, newspapers. Use your intuition to not only guide who you talk to at conferences and events, but what you read to prepare. Keep track of interesting articles. Any article I find interesting that supports what I do or what one of my contacts do I save or send when necessary.
Hire a stylist or better yet, someone who does branding through appearance. It was the single most important investment I made in myself besides buying my domain name and incorporating my business. I know one of my clients signed up with me simply because how comfortable and at ease I looked in my clothes.
Take improv, stand-up comedy, acting, singing, dancing or story telling classes so that you may learn how to be more open and responsive with your instruments (body + voice). Hire a coach to help you hone your pitch or to coach you through public speaking:
Practice role-playing networking or pitching with family and friends. Practice, practice, practice. Did I say that already?
Keep a well organized database of contacts. Keep tabs on the people you meet. Put notes on their cards or use a post it system to remember details about them. Keep notes about what matters to them, who they know, how many children they have. Pay more attention to who they are than what they do.
Most importantly, be relaxed, and easy, but highly intentional. It’s crucial. Read books on intention and how powerful and important it is.
3. When you are networking do you pay attention to eye contact and body language, your own and others?
Absolutely. Again, it takes practice, lots and lots of it. The more you do it, the better you become. Meditation and such tools that are fantastic at relaxing your body and mind are essential. The more relaxed, yet alert you are, the more you can pick up on their own cues, while simultaneously being aware of how you are coming across.
Lately, everyone tells me how “confident” I am. I don’t ever think about it. I just am relaxed and myself, and confidence is a natural by-product.
4. Do you have any networking pet peeves or No Nos?
Going around and just handing out cards without actually meeting or talking to someone face to face. Terrible etiquette.
In the same vein, sending out a blanket, once size fits all email to all the attendees of a meeting. Definitely sends the wrong, “I’m just here to get business message.”
It used to bother me that men would constantly hit on me at events, whether married or not. I found it incredibly offensive. I’ve since gotten over it and rather than seize up and judge, I simply thank them for their compliments and charismatically say, although I am flattered, I’m simply there to focus on my business. I even say this sort of thing at parties, such as, “Right now, my business is more important to me than a relationship.” Usually, I find that they respect the compassionate, intelligent way I handle myself. Choosing this route has brought me opportunities that rebuffing them coldly would never have.
Allow every “failure” or “misstep” be an opportunity for evaluation and learning.
5. How long should you wait to follow up with someone you just met?
It depends on the person, and it’s really an intuitive process. Sometimes with people I will wait a while and sometimes I do it right away. Again it’s practice. My focus is to do it as organically and as compassionately as possible. It’s what I call “holding the space” for the opportunity. Sometimes you can follow up a year later or 6 months later and it can still be really useful. You would be surprised how often people remember you, especially if you do all the things I talked about in the beginning and you’re open, free and comfortable in your own skin and you are having that repartee.
I go to a lot of these events where I’m the only woman that’s in this company culture business and I’m surrounded by a bunch of bankers and investors and me coming with my attitudes and opinions, I’m a breath of fresh air for those guys and they’ll tell me that. So it doesn’t matter if I follow up with them next year or next week, they’re going to remember me.
6. Are there any topics to stay away from?
I don’t talk about politics.
7. How do you prepare before going to a networking event or a social event where you know you can network?
I meditate at least an hour before the event. That is absolutely crucial. I find any type of body work helps too, whether it’s yoga, rolfing, or anything else. It’s about feeling comfortable and calm.
8. How do you find these networking events?
Networking. The networking leads to more networking.♥
Jessica had a soothing presence when talking to me and made me feel at ease. She captured and held my attention. She is good! After the interview we ended up talking for another 30 minutes in the rain. She was very giving of her time and for that I thank her. I definitely plan on and can’t wait to work with Jessica in the future.
For more on Jessica:
Here are Jessica’s resources for becoming an effective networker
For organizing your contacts and notes:
For personal style:
www.dressingyourtruth.com by Carol Tuttle
www.getlifestyled.com by Darcey Howard (my stylist)
For perfecting your pitch or public speaking:
Networking is a Contact Sport by Joe Sweeney
Power of Intention by Wayne Dyer
What Every BODY is Saying by Joe Navarro