I’m a dad. Wow. I need to repeat that. I’m a dad.
This is all still so new for me. My son, Grant Graeson Samuels, was born on Tuesday, December 15 at 9:11pm and instantly I became a member of a special club. I’m a parent now.
I started to become aware of this extensive and abundant community when my wife and I began to share the great news that she was pregnant. Instantly there was rapport between me and anyone else who has children.
With all the holiday parties coming up you’re going to have a lot of opportunities to practice schmoozing. Maybe small talk isn’t your thing so you are dreading the idea and wondering how you’ll ever survive mundane topics like the weather and traffic.
Start the conversation off on the right foot:
1) Greet people by saying your name. Don’t assume they remember.
2) Ask an open-ended question that gets them talking about themselves.
Ideas for this time of year:
- What are your family’s favorite holiday traditions?
- What are your favorite holiday memories from childhood?
Any time of year you could ask:
- Have you traveled anywhere recently?
- If you had free time, how would you fill it?
My standard opening question is, “How did you hear about this event?”
3) Listen intently and ask thoughtful follow-up questions to engage them further. Don’t have any knowledge about the topic they brought up? Not sure how to respond?
I’ve lived in Boston for just over 13 years, which is long enough to know I’m a newcomer. [click to tweet] When I arrived in 2002, I didn’t have secure housing or a job, much less a professional network.
Soon after moving to Boston I received two full-time career-track job offers on the same day. What made that possible? Strategic volunteering.
For over a year prior to moving to Boston, I visited regularly to build relationships with new friends, learn my way around the city, and get to know the organizations I hoped to work for.
At least once a month I volunteered for Fenway Health’s outreach program. After a few months I was offered the opportunity to be a lead volunteer, in charge of setting up the outreach table and training new volunteers. I accepted and was then in regular contact with staff at Fenway Health.
I also signed up to volunteer at AIDS Action Committee’s AIDS Walk a few months before moving to Boston. I knew I needed to stand out in a crowd of volunteers, so I offered to help out the day prior as well as the day of the event. The morning of the event I was asked to take a leadership volunteer role. AIDS Action staff now knew me and that I could be counted on.
At the end of 2014, I left my career to go “out on my own” as a professional speaker, expanding a side business that began in 2009. I was passionate about teaching people how to build great professional networks and strong, welcoming communities.
It wasn’t out of nowhere. My signature session, Art of the Schmooze, had been getting rave reviews and I knew there was more I could offer if I wasn’t balancing a full-time job and an increasing number of speaking engagements.
This meant that after 15 years, I was no longer going to be working in an office surrounded by colleagues.
But was I “out on my own”?
As I’m nearing the end of my first year as a solopreneur, I’m reflecting on my journey and can’t help but notice all the ways I was not “out on my own” this year.
From beta readers willing to provide feedback when I was first starting to write a blog, to technical support as I upgraded my website, to word of mouth promotion of my trainings, to being willing to be interviewed for On the Schmooze my soon-to-be launched podcast, to general encouragement and unending belief that I can and should be building this business – I have felt tremendous support from my network.
You’ve gotten dressed up and ventured out to a networking event. With some advance research you are pretty confident that you’ll be able to make good connections at this event. You walk in and… now what? How do you jump in?
The first question to ask yourself is, “Am I a guest or a host?” If you’re a regular and know many people at the event, then consider yourself a host. This is true more times than you might have realized. Being a host means you go out of your way to welcome others and make introductions. You look for outliers and help them feel connected. You’ll find there are many benefits to being a regular and being known by others in the room.
Instead of scattershot attendance, focus your energy on just a few organizations’ events to quickly become a regular.
[click to tweet]
Of course, there’s always a first time, when you’re a newcomer. What do you do if you are a guest? If you are an introvert and/or shy and you find networking very stressful, you may naturally gravitate to the edges of the room. However, this can be counterproductive to making connections.
Meeting strangers can be scary. Going into a room filled with people you don’t know with the expectation that you’ll chat with a few of them – not easy. It’s human nature to want to stick with what is familiar to us and stay within our comfort zones. The downside to this instinct?
You’ll only know the people you already know and if they can’t help you find a job or identify new clients then you’re at a dead end. If you’re serious about achieving your professional goals you’ll need to get past your fear of meeting strangers.
To help make networking less scary, I’ve created a simple tool to help you focus your time and get results.
[click to tweet]
It’s only three steps, but when you follow them you’ll find you will be much more clear about why you are networking, what your goals are, and how to achieve them.
Brainstorm + Objective + Organize = BOO!
Events. Every organization hosts events, but are they effective? It’s important to be very clear about what the goals are for any event you host and have strategies in place to meet those goals. Fundraising events in particular require a lot of staff time and expenses can greatly reduce the amount of revenue received by the organization.
Before committing to hosting a fundraiser carefully consider the benefits and costs. (click to tweet)
While raising money is the main reason the event is being hosted it would be a missed opportunity to only focus on revenue and ignore other ways the event can support your mission.
For 10 event seasons, from 2005-2014, I managed 25 events a year that raised approximately $1,000,000 for a Boston-based nonprofit. To improve communication with my team I designed an event strategy form. These are the questions I considered before planning any fundraiser or donor cultivation event.
An event strategy form clearly outlines all the goals of the event and the strategies to achieve them. I recommend that the first draft of this form be filled in by the event manager and then discussed with key members of the development team. Once a plan has been created, document any significant changes on this form. Reference this document after the event to measure how well you succeeded at your goals and include your findings in a separate event debrief document.
It’s early in the morning and you’re on your way to a local conference – or it’s late at night and you’re flying to a conference across the country. Knowing you would be out of the office at least one day, you stayed late several days in the last week to get work done. In fact, you’re still thinking about a project at work and wondering how you’ll meet the deadline while being out of the office.
The last thing on your mind is networking.
Ideally you’d have thought through a strategic networking plan before going to the conference, but even without one you can take advantage of all the small networking moments throughout the day. One example is the opportunity to meet fellow attendees at breakout sessions.
Does this scene sound familiar? You don’t know many people at the conference and you don’t enjoy mingling during the breaks, so you go directly to the breakout session room 5-10 minutes before it begins. You choose a chair as far apart as possible from everyone else in the room, taking the aisle seat in the last row if it’s still available. Then quickly get on your phone to check work emails, scroll through Facebook, or play Bejeweled. As the room fills up a few people are sitting near you – perhaps even one seat over. The room is less than half filled and almost completely silent. You and almost everyone else is focused on their phones.
Let’s face it. Networking means meeting people and if you’re reading this, you probably find that exhausting. Not to mention overwhelming. The worst part? It also often feels like a waste of time. Yet you know you have to network, because it is touted as being one of the things you need to do, and do well, to build a successful business.
If you are an introvert, you know you need to carefully manage your energy level or you’ll find yourself depleted really quickly. Spend a few hours at an event, floating around the room without a sense of purpose and you’ll go home wiped out and feeling defeated. Since being around large groups of people is draining, the time spent needs to feel like it was worth it.
What if you could go home after only one hour and feel really good about what you accomplished? Here’s my three-part strategy to network successfully in one hour. These are networking tips for introverts – but extroverts might want to take some notes as well.
1) Don’t just show up.
Before going to any event, spend some time figuring out why attending this event in particular is important for your business. Getting clarity about why this event, this specific event, is important will help you think positively about the opportunities that lie ahead – which may help you muster the energy to actually attend.