Presenting Yourself More Powerfully in Networking
I recall a time when I was networking with a top executive at a Fortune 100 company. I was pretty bold when I reached out to him on the telephone. I had been introduced to him by a mutual friend. After I introduced myself, I made a bold and direct request. He said yes. I was feeling pretty powerful that day.
One year later, I had the opportunity to meet face to face with him in his office. I remember feeling a bit puny sitting there, waiting in a sterile but well-appointed conference room. He was fifteen minutes late. I believe this was by design; a power play. When he arrived and walked in the room I immediately felt small and insignificant. I quickly noticed our differences in height, wardrobe, body language, power and position. I remember trying to compensate for that feeling by being nice and friendly. I was working hard to try to build a connection with him; to try and find some common ground that was shared. In effect, I was wasting his time. I was also wasting my time and eroding my confidence.
I have reflected on this meeting many times wondering what I could have done differently to present myself more powerfully to this influential person.
How powerful are you?
What comes to mind when you think of the word power? Is it physical strength? Title and position? Control over others? Personal resiliency?
It’s at times like these that I go to the on-line dictionary to understand at a deeper level an idea or concept that I use in every day conversation. The dictionary defines power as:
1. great or marked ability to do or act; strength
2. The ability to do something or act in a particular way, esp. as a faculty or quality.
Networking is something that most everybody does without even realizing it. We all have relationships; we all interact with people every day; we meet new people all the time.
Yet, networking is also a skill that can be developed and a strategy that can be employed to advance your career, business and life goals.
So, how do you build strength in your ability to network? How can you become more powerful when you network?
When you network with other people, you are representing something more powerful and important than just your products and services. You are presenting something even more meaningful than the company(s) you work for or have worked for in the past.
When you network, you are ultimately representing yourself. The goal is to make your personal presentation as powerful (e.g., strong and capable) and positive as it can be, while still being authentic. I like to advise people to bring their best self to the table when they network with others.
What does your “best self” look like?
There’s a popular expressive that suggests that “It is none of my business what other people think of me.” I’m going to suggest that it is your business and that you should care. You should make some effort to monitor and manage your own public image.
People will judge you not only by how you look, but by how you act (past, present and future). Your reputation will precede you. Your reputation has been molded over time based upon how you have treated other people in the past, how you have conducted yourself in business and in life, as well as how you present yourself in-person and on-line. It all adds up to a reputation- your personal brand.
Whether you are networking over the telephone, on-line, on-paper, or face-to-face, your confidence, competence and credibility will be showcased during these networking engagements. I encourage you to strive to make a great first and lasting impression- one that is authentic, powerful, and approachable. This will enable you to move this new connection in the direction of a mutually-beneficial relationship.
Six easy things you can do to present a more powerful you in networking
You do not have to be beautiful, glamorous or rich to be successful in networking. Cosmetic surgery, teeth whitening and weight loss are not necessary. You don’t even need to be employed. All you need is confidence and the ability to make connections and build mutually beneficial relationships.
Here are six things you can do to present yourself more powerfully when you network. They are easy to do, costs next to nothing and can be done without any major shifts in your personality. They are well within your reach and will yield immediate positive results.
1. Manage your time. Show up on time (or a few minutes early). Be generous with your time, but set and honor your time boundaries. Arriving late and in a panic will send a negative message about you to other people. Show them that you respect them and yourself by being punctual and prudent with the time you devote to networking.
2. Practice good posture. “Sit up straight, smile and relax” – that was advice that was given to me at a very unusual networking event: an autocross event. This was the first time that I was attempting to drive a sports car really fast around a pre-determined curvy race course. Good posture helped me to build my confidence in doing something scary. Networking and meeting new people can also feel scary at times. Supportive posture not only helps you physically, but it will help you socially. Give it a whirl.
3. Dress for success. It’s all there in your wardrobe; you just need to be more mindful about how you put yourself together. Clothing, accessories, shoes, colors, styles, haircut, personal grooming. Take the time and make the effort to polish your outward appearance. You don’t have to dress formally as in a job interviewing, but you should present a professional appearance when you network with others. Don’t make the mistake of being too casual. Demonstrate your respect for yourself and for them by upgrading your garb for the day.
4. Know your agenda. Don’t just show up to networking events. Do your homework and preparation. That includes basic research on the people you are going to be networking with, as well as an internal examination of what you’d like to get out of this meeting. Ask yourself the questions: 1) what do I hope to get out of this networking meeting? and 2) who else would make a good connection for me? Be ready when they ask you that second question. The more specific an answer you can have, the more likely they are to be able to help you. Be sure to ask this second question of everyone you network with. By knowing who the other person needs/wants to meet, the easier it is to go through our mental Rolodex and help them. You should come away with a future connection after every networking meeting. Learn to confidently ask for it.
5. Get to the point. Everyone has different communication styles. Some people are direct while others like to infer and to suggest. I encourage you to be aware of your own communication style and to observe other’s preferred style of communication. Learn to be adaptive and flexible. The right timing and approach is helpful when building bridges with people. I encourage you to learn to be direct and to ask for what you need and want in networking. This saves people the hassle of having to read your mind or guess what or who might make a good connection for you. I have found that being direct with the appropriate amount of tact and civility is the magic formula for networking communication.
6. Believe in yourself. No matter what your current circumstance, you must practice an unshakable belief in yourself. Self-confidence is an attractive feature and you must learn to cultivate it. Self-doubt, even if you never vocalize it, will find a way to express itself and usually in your body language. Know your value and value yourself. That is at the core of personal empowerment.
Make it look easy
Presenting yourself more powerfully is more than an appearance issue. To be sustainable and truly powerful, your personal power must be supported at your core. It must become part of who you are; not just the reflection that others see and what you post on Facebook.
“One of the things about powerful people is they have the ability to make it look easy.”- ICE-T, Men’s Health, Dec. 2005
Your awareness and regular practice of personal empowerment techniques (such as the simple ones listed in this blog article) will become second nature for you over time. You will reach the level of “unconscious competence” when you are no longer aware of what you do so well. You just do it. It appears easy to others. However, make no mistake; you have put in the necessary sweat equity to get to that level of mastery.
About the writer: Kathy McAfee is known as America’s Marketing Motivator and is author of the book Networking Ahead for Business and co-founder of PowerUpYourProfessionalImage.com. In her role as Executive Presentation Coach and Professional Speaker, Kathy helps her clients to become the recognized leaders in their fields by mastering the art of high engagement presentations and more effective networking and connecting. To learn more about Kathy, visit her web site MarketingMotivator.net. To receive free weekly networking tips, sign up at NetworkingAhead.com.