Unless you are a seasoned politician or a reporter accustom to walking into unfamiliar events and interacting with strangers, most people get nervous when attending conferences or other work-related events. How will I meet people? How can I best use my time? How do I become more than just a face in the crowd?
If you are plagued by those fears, you are not alone. And therein lies your opportunity: Most everyone else is nervous too. So the person who can relieve the fears and relax those around them can become an expert networker by helping other people overcome their jitters.
That's where good old-fashioned manners come in. Good manners are good business. Why manners? Let's go back to their origins. Manners aren't about which fork to use; manners are about making other people feel comfortable. So a conference with a room full of uncomfortable people couldn't be a better place to use manners and make business contacts who won't forget your name. I've used this technique for more than 20 years and have garnered more than a thousand contacts during that time, just by being nice.
Here's a simple example: Let's say the conference organizers haven't made it easy to figure out where to sign in and pick up your badge. You finally get your badge and head off to find a seat. Before you do though take a look around. Is someone else milling around obviously confused and uncomfortable the way you were five minutes ago? Speak up and break the ice. "Hey, did you sign in yet? They don't make it easy for us." Insert big smile here. "What's your last name? Wolf? The Ws are over there. I'm an M myself." At this point, depending on their reaction, you can continue the conversation maybe with something like -- this is my first conference here, how about you? Or I'm really looking forward to some of the speakers. Or you could walk them to their registration table. How far you take this interaction is dependent on the reception you get. As the interaction ends offer your card. Insert another big smile here.
Using good manners in this way serves several purposes: It takes your mind off yourself and your own jitters for one. When you aren't focused on yourself, you automatically become more relaxed. It also provides an easy way to break the conversation ice, and the person you helped will likely remember you for your kindness.
You can apply this 'manners- driven' style of networking in many situations. Someone drops their presentation folder. Stop and help them pick it up and begin a conversation about said presentation. Insert big smile and hand them a card. A man is wandering around obviously looking for a conference room. Offer to help. A woman pours coffee only to find the pot is empty. Flag down a server to get another pot. Each time find something about the situation to talk about so that the interaction is extended.
I stumbled upon this method of networking early in my career. After a decade as a stay-at-home mom, I had landed a good job and was off to my first business luncheon. I was terrified. I felt that everyone there would be old pros and I was destined to make a fool of myself. A dear friend and very successful businesswoman told me: "There are only three things that matter: To be kind, to be kind, to be kind." I really didn't get how that applied to business, but I took her words to heart. I soon found out what she meant. Instead of making a fool of myself I ended up coming home with dozens of business contacts because of two words I said to help someone feel comfortable.
The man sitting next to me at the table was cutting his meat and a piece went flying from his plate and landed on the table next to us. The people at both tables froze and the man was clearly embarrassed. I felt compelled to make the man feel better and said loudly "Two points!" Everyone laughed, the man's embarrassment lifted and very interestingly I became "popular" at the event. People at other tables who had witnessed the incident came over to talk to me as if they already knew me-- they introduced me to people they knew and on it went. I couldn't have been more surprised or had a more successful re-entry into the world of business. I've used this manners driven approach to networking every since.
Turns out good manners really are good business.
By Carol Wolf
Carol Wolf is a freelance ghostwriter and wordsmith. She can be reached at CarolWolfMedia@gmail.com