How do you show up at networking events? Are you the person who quickly finds a place to sit, grabs your phone and starts looking intent upon checking your most recent text or email? That is a good way to send the signal, “Hey, I am here at this event, but don’t really want to be, so don’t bother me!”
Or, are you the person who latches on to the first person you recognize and then you hang with them the rest of the evening, hoping that they won’t leave you stranded and all alone? Recognize either of those scenarios? I do. Unfortunately, I have been guilty of both of those behaviors.
You see, I am an extreme Introvert. People are always surprised when I tell them that, but it is true. As a result of being an extreme, off the chart Introvert, I truly hate networking events of every stripe, including parties, which are just networking events with a social aspect as opposed to a strictly business purpose. I hate them all. I make myself go to events, however, because I need to let people know what I do. Once there, I have to force myself to put the phone out of sight and look for people I don’t know instead of the familiar faces of those I know already.
If you are looking for work or have a job that requires you to develop some semblance of grace and poise in networking situations, you need to develop a more positive attitude toward networking.
Pay attention to these 5 ways you can show your personal brand at any networking event you may choose to attend.
1. Practice your handshake.
I know, I know…you think you know all about handshakes already. Believe me, you don’t. I am still amazed at the number of high profile businessmen (and women) that I meet who offer terrible handshakes!
There are two types of bad handshake. There is the “floppy fish” handshake, and there is the bone crushing, “Me, Tarzan, you, weakling,” handshake. These represent two extremes of the same social convention. You need to practice your handshake so that you aren’t guilty of either of these faux pas.
Now, as a point of clarification, and just to be sure we are on the same page, the “floppy fish” handshake is the one where you only extend your four fingers as opposed to going for a “palm-to-palm” handshake. Believe it or not, I have experienced this type of bad handshake from both men and women. It doesn’t do a thing for their brand as a professional. Instead, the floppy fish handshake makes them appear weak and wishy-washy. If you offer the “floppy fish” handshake, it will do similar harm to your brand. Avoid it at all costs.
By the same token, avoid using the bone-crushing handshake of the Hulk. You don’t need to crush anyone’s hand when you are meeting! That kind of handshake indicates that you are either a bully or someone who is over deliberately compensating for feeling shy or weak. An overly powerful handshake is also not good for your personal brand.
My best advice is to practice your handshake until you can be natural with it. You want to use about the same pressure you would use on the doorknob of a closed door you want to open. You should go for the palm, so that you have firm but not crushing pressure that is palm-to palm…not fingers to fingers. Sometimes, if you meet another “floppy fish” or Tarzan type who wants to assert dominance, you have to do the best you can. You don’t have to offer the offending handshake, however, so practice!
2. Be aware of your ability to hold eye contact.
You can make a great impression when you use good eye contact upon meeting someone new. This is also a skill that might be enhanced with some practice. As you shake a new acquaintance’s hand, you want to look into their eyes squarely and unwaveringly. After about five seconds or so, it is okay to break eye contact, however. Prolonging initial eye contact can introduce an element of creepiness in the exchange, or it might convey a desire to dominate and subdue the other person. Be wary of being too forward about eye contact with people you have just met for the first time. You want to convey genuine interest in the other person without being overbearing.
In the event that you aren’t sure whether you are using eye contact appropriately, get a friend to practice with you before going to your next networking event. You should never show up at a networking event unprepared, and being prepared means being able to shake hands appropriately and being able to engage in eye contact that conveys that you are comfortable in your own skin and you are able to engage with new people naturally and gracefully.
3. Avoid looking at your phone during a networking event.
I know that we have become so used to checking our phones every 6 ½ minutes (yes, that is a real statistic) that it will feel unnatural to put your phone away during an entire evening or over the course of a whole networking event, but let’s remember why you are attending the event. It is to network, isn’t it?
Let me be clear. If you don’t want to go to the event, and you aren’t prepared to put your best foot forward, do yourself and everyone else there a favor and don’t go. Networking events are not a lot of fun for a lot of people. For those who go when they don’t want to go and they aren’t going to make an effort to be as charming and gracious as they can muster, it is a waste of your time and worse, it could do you more harm than good. If your next boss happens to be at this event, what are you chances of impressing him or her if you should up and keep your eyes glued on your phone the entire time? Don’t do it. Put the phone away.
4. Find someone who looks uncomfortable and take it upon yourself to make him or her feel more comfortable.
One mindset a lot of people get wrong when it comes to networking is that they think it has to be about them. No…you should make it about the other people there. If you feel uncomfortable, chances are there will be someone there who feels even more uncomfortable. You would notice that if you weren’t glued to your phone.
So, put the phone away and look for the poor guy (or gal) who looks as miserable as you feel. Sidle over to them and ask, “Do you hate these events as much as I do?” It is a natural icebreaker. More than likely, they will reward your witty remark with a grateful smile, and the next thing you know you are having a conversation. “So what brings you here?” or “Do you come to these events often?” are also great ways to break the ice and get a conversation started. Who knows? That person may be someone becomes your next employer…or spouse! You never know how these conversations will go, but you will never find out unless you decide to engage with them.
5. Be aware that your personal brand is all wrapped up in how you show up, whether it is at a networking event or your first day on the job.
From the moment you arrive on the scene, you are conveying who you are, which is what your personal brand is. What kind of handshake do you offer? What sort of eye contact do you use? Do you stand around looking at your phone and looking bored, or do you seek out people in order to help make them more comfortable? These are all part of your brand. whether you were aware of it or not. One brand is “I’m bored and don’t want to be bothered.” Another brand is, “I am really happy to be here and want to make an effort to put other people at ease.”
Which brand do you think your next boss wants in the person he or she hires for a great new opening that hasn’t even been advertised yet? When William Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage,” he wasn’t kidding. Everywhere you go and in every encounter in which you engage, you are “on stage” so to speak. You are being observed even when you aren’t aware of being observed. You can make a great first impression, or you can make a lousy first impression. It is totally up to you. If you want to make sure you show off your personal brand in a positive light, however, I highly suggest you keep these five pointers in mind, and don’t forget to take you business cards with you to have ready when someone wants to know how to get in touch with you later. Happy networking!
This post was originally published at an earlier date.
Kitty Boitnott, Ph.D., NBCT is a former educator turned Career Transition and Job Strategy Coach specializing in working with teachers who are experiencing the painful symptoms of job burnout. She also works with mid-career professionals from all walks of life who find themselves at a career crossroads either by chance or by choice. Learn more about Kitty at Boitnott Coaching, LLC.
Disclosure: This post is sponsored by a CAREEREALISM-approved expert. You can learn more about expert posts here.
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