Antoinette Santos, Boston
I was at a networking event in high school, attending an etiquette dinner. It was a black tie event with multiple courses and an anxiety-inducing amount of plates, silverware, and drinking glasses to utilize. There was a prominent banker seated on my right. We were to network in between bites and words of etiquette wisdom from our Etiquette master, a sharply dressed brunette woman commanding attention with her microphone and heels. The first course was served–a fresh garden salad. The large pieces of lettuce looked like formidable opponents. I was instructed by the Etiquette master that the pieces within my salad could not be stabbed then consumed but must be scooped gently to their destination. I reached for a cherry tomato, balancing it daintily with my fork as instructed by the Etiquette master, and guided it into my mouth. I bit down. And squirted tomato bits all over Mr.Prominent Banker’s clean white napkin next to me.
Since that incident, networking has always been a source of anxiety for me, even when there is no one waltzing in between tables, telling me how to eat.
Entering networking events years later, I’m always acutely aware of my body language, where I’m positioned and who I’m near, that my lips always seem chapped, that my shoes make my feet ache, and unfortunately, I’m often aware of the words spilling out of my mouth that don’t seem to work and wow my audience as I hope they would. Networking isn’t a natural thing for me. My natural disposition when meeting someone new is to be friendly but to listen and to read the situation before I really interact. For someone who is an extrovert, I’m actually kind of shy. My shyness is highlighted at networking events where there is a feeling of frustration as to why I’m even there. The premise of networking feels contrived. The execution can come off as slick car salesman-like and self-servient–how can I impress you? How can you help me?
I’d love to just get to know you, see if we connect, and stay connected if we both grow from our relationship.
Overtime I learned that that’s precisely what meaningful networking is all about. Relationships matter. Getting to know someone, like building a friendship, is a series of interactions. You have to work on building it overtime.The most hilarious, entertaining, enchanting person could impress someone at a networking event for a moment, but if he or she fails to follow up and remain present, then their impression and impact on that person is just momentary.
Where I’ve excelled in networking is rarely at the events themselves but with what happens afterwards: keeping in touch. People you want as mentors or as “connections” need to know you’re around and that you’re interested in them or else they won’t be interested in you. So I make an effort to stay involved in their lives. At the start of each month, I write a list for myself of people to connect with. The list is a mix of people I’ve worked with, friends who live far away, and extended family members. Over the course of the month, I go on Facebook. I write emails. I’ll send InMail on LinkedIn. Keeping up this habit keeps me “networking” on a regular basis and ensures that the people I do keep in touch with remember me so that when I need advice or assistance, I’m someone they care to help, because they know what’s going on in my life and they know I’m interested in theirs as well. And when we get together later over a fresh garden salad, I’m not worrying about how I’m eating. I’m too engaged in career-oriented conversation with my friend.
Antoinette Santos is a Boston, MA Consulting by Degrees consultant and an alumna of Babson College. She likes pumping herself back to life every morning with black coffee, eating copious amounts of sushi (spicy tuna hand roll, please), and scrapbooking. She likes to go on adventures.