By Donna Cardillo, RN, MA
Have you heard of the value of networking but don’t know how to get started? Do you consider yourself shy and uncomfortable striking up conversations?
Then join the crowd. Most people feel exactly as you do and dread going out in public and meeting new people. However, once you learn a few practical tips on how to get started and get a little practice, you’ll be on your way to creating a rich network of contacts.
Opportunities to network are virtually everywhere. A great place to start is at local professional association meetings. If you belong to an organization and haven’t been to a meeting for a while, I encourage you to go. If you don’t belong to a group, contact your state nurses association or specialty organization and find out when and where your local chapter meets and make arrangements to go as a guest. All professional associations welcome guests.
Dress in your best professional clothing to feel more confident and make a good first impression. When you arrive, tell the greeter, “This is my first meeting. Could you introduce me to someone who can tell me more about the organization and introduce me to other members?” This way you won’t have to walk into the meeting room alone and will immediately know someone.
Going to a meeting with a friend is fine, but don’t just talk to that person all night. Nurses have a habit of traveling in “packs” and sticking with those individuals. If you do that, you’ll never expand your circle of contacts. Whether attending alone or with a group, set a goal of meeting at least one new person at every meeting.
How to break the ice
Most people are afraid to strike up a conversation with strangers. Because most people already feel that way, the important thing to remember is that others are usually relieved when you say something first.
Rather than just introducing yourself, start with ice breakers such as, “Did you have far to travel to get here?” or “Have you been to these meetings before?” Then tell the other person your name and where you work or what your specialty is and ask about theirs. Most nurses feel comfortable talking about their work and this is something you certainly have in common. If the other person isn’t a nurse or you have no way of knowing if she is, you can start with the same two ice breakers and then introduce yourself as above and ask about them.
Another way to get started is to go to the food or refreshment table and comment on how good the food looks or something similar. Then you might say, “This is my first meeting, do they always serve food?” This light, superficial banter, known as “small talk,” serves as a warm-up phase between two people who haven’t met before. Most people need to establish a connection by commenting on the weather, the food, or the meeting room before divulging personal information. Once the ice is broken, focus on the other person and ask more about what she does or where she works. Most people love to talk about themselves and are thrilled when someone expresses interest in them.
Another tip: Look for someone who is standing alone rather than trying to break into a conversation in progress or walking up to a group. Start with one of your ice breakers—you might try “I always feel a little uncomfortable at these things, how about you?” After that, you can ask about their work or specialty. Show genuine interest, listen attentively, ask the other person to tell you more, and you’ll soon be the life of any party or meeting.
It’s in the cards
Besides these ice-breaking techniques, use business cards to get the most out of each networking opportunity. If you don’t already have them, have some made at Staples, Kinkos, or a local stationery store . Include your name, credentials, address, and phone number. Also include your fax number and e-mail address if applicable. Either your home or your business information is appropriate.
Keep the card simple and professional: A white card with black lettering is best. Carry your cards at all times. The real value and power of networking is in making contacts that you can call later for information, advice, and support.
Read my previous article How Networking Can Work For You for more information. Then get out and use your newfound networking skills. With a little practice and commitment, you’ll be networking your way to success.
Reprinted with permission from Nurses.com (www.nurses.com).
Copyright by Verticalnet, Inc., Horsham, PA., 215-315-3247.
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