I’m naturally a shy person who used to have a very difficult time in social and public situations. I still occasionally struggle with it but am much better due to practice, hard work, and putting myself in situations where I have to be more outgoing and sociable.
I know it’s a critical requirement to be successful as an HR leader and in business so I have made a concerted effort throughout my career to be more outgoing and make myself a better networker.
The single best lesson I ever learned about networking was from my son fifteen years ago, when he was five years old.
My family would occasionally visit McDonalds for dinner and the kids would run off to the playland while my wife and I placed our food order. By the time we sat down in playland to eat, every single kid there knew my son’s name and was playing with him. Often, some would ask if they could sleep over at our house!
At first we assumed these were kids he knew from school or hockey so we asked him how he knew them. He simply shrugged and stated that he had just met them there. Mind you, it was usually only ten minutes from the time we entered McDonalds to the time we sat down to eat.
This went on consistently for a few months until I decided to follow him into playland and observe his behavior while my wife ordered our burgers. What kind of magic did he do to get all these kids to be friends in less than 15 minutes? It turned out to be ridiculously simple.
He would run into playland with total enthusiasm and run up to each kid there with a big smile and introduce himself by saying “Hi! My name is Bill! Wanna play with me?” Of course, almost every kid met his enthusiastic introduction with equal enthusiasm and agreed to play with him. Of course, he would occasionally meet a kid who would ignore him but he would simply move on to the next without missing a beat.
Within five minutes he had introduced himself to everybody in playland and was loudly playing tag and crawling through the tubes and jumping in the plastic balls.
Wow, I thought. How easy is that!
In summary, here’s what I learned from my five year old:
- Be sincerely enthusiastic about being where you are and meeting new people.
- Take the initiative to approach people and introduce yourself.
- Ask the people you approach for their name/profession/reason for attending the networking event (you should not ask them if they want to play!).
- Make a point to include your new ‘friends’ in discussions with others.
- Don’t worry about being rejected. Quickly move on to another person and introduce yourself.
- Remain enthusiastic and positive throughout and have fun making new friends.