The holiday party season is about to go into full swing. For some, this is a favorite time of year, but for others, the invitations piling up in the mailbox and inbox represent dreaded social obligations. Or maybe you're somewhere in the middle: neither wallflower nor butterfly, but still looking to improve your gift of gab.
Wherever you fall on the spectrum, take heart. The reluctant party-goer can become more relaxed and the veteran networker can learn a few new tricks.
START WITH SELF-TALK: If you shudder at the thought of walking into a room full of people exchanging business cards under the mistletoe, you're not alone. There are a lot of business owners who avoid networking for a variety of reasons.
But let's say the desire is there, either because you want to meet some like-minded people or simply because the phone isn't ringing and you need to drum up some business for your company. Your next move is to start paying close attention to your self-talk.
Your self-talk might be, "Why should I waste an evening with strangers when I'd rather be home with my family?" Or perhaps, "I'm better one-on-one, and besides, this thing is all the way across town."
If this type of self-talk sounds familiar, here's the secret to changing it: Don't try to stop thinking those things. Rather, decide what you are going to start thinking instead. Sit down with pen and paper and write down the thoughts you want to think in lieu of the old self-talk. That might be, "I met Jane at that networking event two years ago, so I could meet someone as cool as her tonight," or "I'm committed to getting better in groups, so this is a great chance to practice," or if all else fails, "Hey, you never know!"
DON'T FORGET THE FOLLOW UP: Most entrepreneurs are looking to build long-term relationships that will help their business thrive. Follow-up after a party or networking event is key, but in fact, great follow-up starts while the person is standing in front of you.
While you're face-to-face, don't worry about selling yourself, your qualifications or your business. If someone takes a liking to you, all that information should be easy to find online. If asked what you do, be brief and give the 30-second version, letting the other person ask more detailed questions if they are interested or have an immediate need for your services.
Instead, focus on learning about the other person. Steer the conversation to see if there's anyone you know that would be a helpful introduction, or if there's a small favor or resource you can offer them.
If you do this part correctly, follow-up will be a breeze, as you'll know exactly what you need to email them or why to call.
RECIPROCITY: Now comes the easy part. Be open in communicating what you're working on, what you're looking for, and what you need. Maybe you're re-branding your business and you're looking for a great social media consultant because you really need more Facebook "likes." Or maybe you've downsized your office space and you'd love to find a buyer for your extra furniture.
Whatever your situation, tap into the network you've worked to build. Give your friends and acquaintances in the local business community the chance to do you a favor. Don't worry about spending your relationship capital, because actually the more you use your network, the stronger and larger it will get. Interpersonal networks are like muscles in that way, so it behooves you to flex your network regularly.
If you've been sincere in listening to your acquaintances, learning about them, and trying to help, they'll welcome the opportunity to reciprocate.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Jennie Wong is an executive coach, author of the e-book "Ask the Mompreneur," and the founder of the social shopping website CartCentric.com. Email her at TheJennieWong@gmail.com.
©2012 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.)
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