A project manager beats the fear of networking

What’s your fear?

They reckon that public speaking is one of the top fears of people if you ask them. But who’s ‘they’? And why are they asking people what they’re afraid of?

fear

Anyway, I mention public speaking because I’m weird and I enjoy it. It’s great to have the privilege to stand amongst a group of people and impart something useful into their lives to make their life easier, or more fun, or sometimes just a bit less poop. Hold that thought. Not the poop. The bit about enjoying public speaking.

Now compare it to this.

I get nervous at networking.

Makes no sense does it?! Someone who is perfectly happy talking to total strangers about something to help them out but doesn’t look forward to networking. And in projects networking is vital. You always need to meet people whom you have nothing in common with; no common ground to start from(such as a shared project).
And yesterday I figured out where my worry came from. And I did something about it to make it better.
Here’s what I did.

Time to grow

As anyone who has chatted to me knows, I’m a big fan of growth, development and reflection. The sort of development that includes being a bit better tomorrow than today. A bit of spiritual growth, improving awareness, being more helpful, working out how to make life cooler. It’s not about taking some moral high ground and being all la-di-dah and sanctimonious, for me it’s about working on what I have so I can get more amazing stuff into the world.

Yesterday I was running through part of the future Fornix business plan (because business planning doesn’t start on 31st December!) and reminded myself that I had some large networking events on the horizon. And I wanted to make the most of them.
My initial worry was that I wouldn’t be able to get across the passion that I have for projects, or the multi-faceted benefits that come with having a project management mindset, or that people I spoke to just wouldn’t ‘get it’.
I needed a change of approach.
So I do what I do on occasions. I consulted my bookshelf.

books

As someone wiser than me said, ‘if you want a new idea, read an old book’. Well, the particular book isn’t particularly old but I hadn’t read it for a while. So I got out my copy of ‘The Unnatural Networker’ by Charlie Lawson. He’s the guy who’s a significant fellow in the BNI networking group.
So I started to read.
I didn’t have time to read everything but the super-distilled essence was this:

‘It takes time to build trust through networking. If you’re an introvert (or just worry about networking), use your skills to really get to know a person – you don’t have to ‘work the room’. Then, because you have taken time to get to know the people you meet, you can work out how best to help them. Sometimes that help is provided directly by you, sometimes that help is you referring someone good to help them.’

It seemed so simple. It’s not about me at all. It’s about them.

I felt a bit silly at this stage, because when I did a talk at Manchester University a few years ago the slide I opened with was about ‘providing something useful to your audience’ as this helps take the fear away from public speaking. Because, rather than being fearful of the audience looking at you, you can focus on how you’re trying to help them. It’s not about you. It’s about them.

While I felt a little embarrassed that the answer to my networking angst had been in my head all along, I’m well-balanced enough to be able to have a chuckle to myself, use the extra bit of advice, and get on with being awesome.

The results from the growth

‘But’ I hear you say. ‘That’s all well and good. But did it actually work?’.

‘Yes’. Is my response.
Today there was a large networking event of some 120 people at Blenheim Palace. A daunting number for those who aren’t keen on networking. But my goal wasn’t to meet every single person. My goal (and it’s always good to have at least one goal for every event you attend) was to meet five new people, find out at least one interesting thing about them and their business and get their contact details. Let’s call that Goal 1.
I would then follow-up after meeting them and based on the conversations I would be able to develop the relationship further. And great business (and great projects) are based on great relationships.

Actually, another goal was to meet an accountant with social enterprise experience to help a friend of mine with her fashion revolution. That’s Goal 2.

And finally, I wanted to enjoy the experience. I enjoy meeting new people and finding out about how their lives work, what they enjoy and what they find challenging. I just didn’t enjoy doing it with my ‘old mindset’. That was Goal 3.

networking

‘So how did you get on?’ I hear you ask.

Goal 1 – speaking to five people and finding out something interesting.
Nailed it. I spoke to ten people, got their interesting thing, got their details and I’ve allocated time to follow-up. It’s actually better than that. I met some people face-to-face whom I haven’t met in person before. And I felt totally at ease.
Goal 2 – finding the social enterprise accountant.
Well, I spoke to accountants but no social enterprise experience materialised….yet. Some of the contacts I made today are going to make enquiries.
Goal 3 – enjoying the experience.
I really enjoyed the event. I felt much more relaxed. I felt more authentic. I didn’t feel worried. In fact, I’m looking forward to more networking. Maybe I’ve gone too far the other way now!

unnatural networker

So that’s the project manager’s guide to overcoming networking worries! There’s no need to worry about meeting new people.

Be yourself. Be curious. Be helpful.

And no matter what it is you’re having difficulties with, there’s always a way to figure something out to make it easier.

blenheim

Here’s to happier networking and happier projects!

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