Yesterday and again today, I’m attending a training event in another city along with what might appear to be over 120 other professionals from other jurisdictions. As it so happens, I only personally knew five of these people when I first arrived. Today I want to share with you some observations about what I’ve noticed, and how you could benefit in such a situation. One very old and unproductive situation is happening at most tables; people who already know each other are choosing to sit with the people they work with on a daily basis, thus reducing any opportunity for mixing, networking and getting to know others. The consequence of course is that others don’t get to know THEM, and this is such a wonderful opportunity lost.
At the table I’m seated at, all six people are from a different organization, three of whom are in Management positions, and three others are front-line staff. As a front-line person myself, I’m now in a position to listen to the three Managers talking and pick up on trends in their offices, hiring needs, and even get information on new initiatives in the area of Provincial policies and directives that will affect me personally in my current job. By taking an interest in the subject matter, getting actively involved in table discussion, listening to these colleagues and acting professional, I hopefully craft a favourably first impression. Now the advantage of doing so may not even be immediately obvious to me, but could help my career down the road.
You see, it’s not too much of a stretch to realize first of all that Supervisors and Manager’s from one jurisdiction meet others from neighbouring Municipalities and my name might pop up. Something like, “Hey did you get to such-and-such training?” “Oh yes I did. Actually I sat with one of your staff, Kelly Mitchell. I like him; he sure had some good ideas and had nice things to say about you come to think of it”. Now if this discussion ever really takes place, my role as an Ambassador for my employer is recognized by my Supervisor, and if I ever wanted to explore the possibility of applying for work in that other organization, I’ve got something to include in a cover letter, or a phone call. At the very least, my name might ring a bell among all the other applicants. Could this be the edge I’d be looking for in order to get an interview?
So why then do so many people find it hard to say, “Hello, pleased to meet you” I wonder? It’s rather simple to do this, and the more you put off trying it, the more of an issue it starts to become. It’s like seeing a pretty girl or handsome guy across the floor at a high school dance. They are probably just as awkward and nervous as you are, but if you just go up and say, “Hi”, the worst is over. Start a conversation any number of ways with any number of lines such as:
– “So what do you think of the presenter so far?”
– “I’m Kelly Mitchell with the Region of Durham”.
– “You can’t just have one of those…you must have another” (I delivered this line myself yesterday standing at the dessert table to someone I didn’t previously know.)
At my table, I distributed business cards to each person there I didn’t know. I also gave one to another gentleman who I got into a conversation with during a break. He emailed me later in the evening and said it had been nice to meet and talk. In addition to that chat, he provided a link to another person’s blog which he thought I’d be interested in reading. Networking in action.
Remember one simple basic piece of information at any event you attend; NO ONE KNOWS YOUR INNER INSECURITY UNLESS YOU SHOW IT ON THE OUTSIDE. Just like at an interview, you want to make a strong impression. The interviewer will only know what you choose to show or tell them. If you are feeling awkward or don’t have well-developed interpersonal skills, no one knows that but you. Set a goal of meeting just one person; get it over with early by introducing yourself at the first break. Sit at a table with people who don’t appear to know other people and you’re just one more. Avoid the table where everyone is chatting because they all know each other and you will feel left out.
Training events and meetings are networking opportunities; some will use them to their advantage and others will let them slip away without any advantage gained. So when you’re there, get up and say, “Hello”!