Network Like an Athlete
If you haven’t heard, GladiatHers® has partnered with Rep & Brand to bring you the 2nd Annual GladiatHers® Women in Sports Mixer. Last year was amazing, but this year we’re taking things up several notches. We’ll have a panel of experts from the sports industry, free (yes, you read that correctly) headshots, food, an open bar, giveaways, human resources professionals and, of course, there will be plenty of time for networking!
Networking. Does the word make you cringe a little, roll your eyes or break out in hives? Don’t be alarmed, you are not the only one. It is not uncommon for women to feel uncomfortable with the idea of networking. There was certainly a time when I was. We can be unsure of what networking really means, what it’s real purpose is, or how it’s supposed to happen. And to thicken the pot, sometimes we’re unsure of ourselves so that makes the idea of networking even more frightening and confusing.
Fortunately, networking doesn’t have to be a burdensome task or a mysterious process. Networking is essentially being deliberate about connecting with people who can help you and who you can help. The practice of it may seem more difficult than its explanation but, trust me, if I can go from dreading networking to throwing networking events, you can become a great, confident networker.
The key for me overcoming my discomfort with networking was putting on my athlete hat. It dawned on me that maybe I should begin to think about networking like I used to think about being a successful tennis player. Once I did that, I was able to come up with four easy and impactful actions I could take to become a successful networker. These actions are so easy, that anyone can use them.
First: Prepare, Practice & Plan Like an Athlete
Athletes hear countless adages about the importance of practicing and planning. “When you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail; plan your work, work your plan; practice makes perfect.” Going to practice and planning strategy is a given in sports. You don’t show up for game time without preparing. If practice and preparation are so important in sports, why would we show up for anything in life without doing the same?
Before you show up at a networking event, prepare by doing some simple things. First, have your business cards. There’s nothing worse than being at an event, making a great contact and not being able to give that person your business card to keep in touch. Don’t be that girl. Pack those cards the night before the event. Second, plan your outfit. You don’t need to put together some elaborate, over-the-top outfit, but decide on what you’ll wear in advance. This ensures that that you’ve put some thought into what will be appropriate for the setting and what you’ll be confident and comfortable in.
Now for the practice. Practice how you’re going to introduce yourself. If you aren’t particularly confident, practicing will help develop the confidence. Base your introduction on the nature of the event. For instance, if you work in human resources but your side hustle is making body scrubs; introduce yourself as a beauty industry professional if you’re at an event filled with creatives. But don’t just be prepared to state your name and job title; be prepared to talk about exactly what you do and what your goals are. Be prepared to ask other attendees questions about what they do as well. One trick that I use, is that I prepare 2-3 questions that I’ll ask everyone I come in contact with. The questions are a bit like my own personal icebreakers and help with awkward silences that come from talking to complete strangers.
Now that you’ve prepared and practiced, develop your strategy. Just like an athlete’s strategy is based on getting the “W,” you need to develop a strategy that leads to whatever you determine to be a successful networking outcome. Success to you could be to meet a certain amount of people or a particular person. Whatever success looks like for you, develop a plan to get you there. Strategize a way to move around the room so that you maximize who you come in contact with or set a goal for how many new people you want to meet. Planning and executing your strategy will ensure that you won’t walk away from a networking event feeling like you wasted your time.
Second: Assess Like an Athlete
No matter what the original game plan is, a good athlete always makes an assessment of how the game is going once the action has begun and makes adjustments if necessary. Similarly, when you’re in the middle of a networking event, assess how things are going? Are you talking to people and making good connections? Do you need to relax? Once you have made an assessment, don’t be afraid to change what’s not working. For instance, if you’ve been at an event for 20 minutes and haven’t had any significant conversations, move to another part of the room and/or boldly introduce yourself to someone you haven’t made contact with. No two networking events will be alike, so try different tactics if things aren’t going like you want them to.
Third: Play Like an Athlete
If you think about some of the best athletes in the world, there’s one thing that you won’t be able to call; timid. Winning athletes attack the game with vigor and confidence. They trust in their talents, their preparation and their experiences and usually it all pays off. That’s how you should be ready to network. Jump right into it. Trust that what you’re bringing to the table (your talents, experiences and personal network) are an asset to someone in that room and that there’s someone in the room is an asset to you. Know that you’ve prepared for the event and that you’re capable of reaching your goal.
Fourth: Review and Follow-Up Like an Athlete
Finally, every athlete watches film and follows up with their coaches after their performances to figure out where they can improve and what they’re doing well. Like an athlete, being a great a networker requires review and follow-up. Always take a moment after an event and reflect on how things went and how you felt. What’s most important; however, is the follow-up. Be sure to follow-up with the people you met, especially those who you believe there could be some mutual benefit. You shouldn’t let too much time pass between the event and the follow-up. I usually like to follow-up within 48-72 hours of the event, that way the interaction is fresh on everyone’s mind. There are many ways to follow-up, emails, handwritten notes, phone calls, etc. Whatever way you choose to follow-up, make an effort to be memorable, refer to something interesting from your conversation and be clear about how you would like to continue to cultivate the relationship.
See, networking really isn’t that difficult. All you have to do is be intentional about it. Conquer it like an athlete and watch your network grow! Now that you have these expert tips, come practice with us in Atlanta, GA on July 12, 2018, at this year’s GladiatHers® Women in Sports Mixer. Click here to sign-up for updates.