AFFIRM Networking: A Natural Process

by Russ Ouellette – President & Managing Partner of Sojourn Partners

friends-istock-194x194We all know the feeling. We’re looking in our schedule to see that we have to go to another “networking rubber chicken dinner” and feel the life sucked out of us. Then, we start to calculate something more important that we should be doing. But deep down, we know in our hearts that it is good to network, but just so uncomfortable.

Then we get there, and we know very few people, and feel alone. We try to make eye contact, and when someone finally comes over, they are equally unskilled and now we both feel a little more awkward. Okay, enough, you have to stop trying so hard.

The truth is that people who are great networkers won’t even read this blog because they just don’t understand what is so hard about it. They are blind to it because they have learned to just be themselves and that’s all they do. The rest just is enjoyable. I recently complimented a business associate that walked into a room and started shaking everyone’s hand. I teased him a little and he looked at me with a blank face, and said, “What are you supposed to do when you enter an event?” He had no idea what the fuss was about. You walk into a room; you start making friends, that’s all he understands. And, this is the secret; it is just about making friends.

A good method for framing your mind around this is the AFFIRM method of networking. You’ll notice that affirm networking is about being yourself and stopping yourself from trying too hard and doing something you’re not comfortable with.

Authentic – People are attracted to other people who are real. As soon as we detect phony, we are gone. You are who you are and that in itself will attract people to you. So when networking, the first rule is to be yourself and that way you don’t have to remember to be something you’re not.

Focus on the People – Yes, you are at the event and there is likely to be a great speaker or program, but you are there to meet people. The other people become your purpose, which is simply to meet them and enjoy learning about them.

Focus on the Individual – When you are engaged in a conversation with someone, focus on them, not you. Be curious and learn about them: what they do, what they love, allow them to tell you, and eventually they’ll ask you. Don’t look over their shoulder, seeing who else you have to meet. Use this time to get to know them, make them feel like you authentically care, and enjoy it. You’ll find value in everyone if you look deep enough.

Informal – Relax and have fun. You’ll notice that the best leaders of people make others feel relaxed and they do this by being relaxed themselves. If you’re not feeling confident, this can be tough. But I challenge you to just go in ask others about their kids, their motorcycle, any topic until you find the thing you have in common and you are off to the races. I don’t even hand out cards unless asked for one. I might ask someone for a card, only if I can go back to my office and do something for them. The result of not trying to hand out cards is more meaningful then cards are collected and given.

Relationship – It’s about good relationships, not lots of them. If you leave a networking event having met one person who you might like to have coffee with in the future – that is better than adding ten new cards (people) to your newsletter. Just go make a friend.

Manage your Contacts – The week you make the acquaintance of a new friend at an event, do something with that contact. You might add it to your contact list, call them and ask them for a coffee, or just keep their information in the event you want to invite them to something. I send them a handwritten note card. This is because I want to nurture a friendship.

So if your networking is just about making friends who like you for who you are and you don’t really get that into business, what is the point? For you rational people, the ROI is tremendous for good relationships that you nurture over time. The more friends you have, the more people will volunteer to help you when you need it. You don’t keep an account of it, and you don’t keep score, you just do it.