by Lisa Schlarbaum, Director of Development
Does networking come easy to you or does it feel like hard work?
Does it make you uncomfortable or do you find yourself meeting new people in the oddest of situations?
I believe some of us are just natural networkers, but for some of us, it seems like a chore.
However, if you have a natural curiosity about people, places or things, you can learn to network. Not long ago, I spent an evening with friends, and by the end of the night I had met four new people that I connected with regarding my work at Hope House.
It started with an Uber driver, who happened to know my neighbors, and ended with a friend of my husband who wanted to make a work connection for me. What’s crazy is that I had no intention of meeting anyone other than the friends I was joining for a night out.
What I’ve found over the years is that sometimes just striking up a conversation, asking a few questions, and building rapport can lead to making a connection for something you are working on or someone important to you. If you do this often enough, you will be surprised at how you can turn random chance encounters into important contacts for your organization, friends, kids, or whatever you are passionate about!
Remember the Six Degrees of Separation theory? This theory asserts that all living things are six or fewer steps away from each other so that a chain of “friend of a friend” statements can be followed to connect any two people in a maximum of six steps.
Most of us who are networkers believe that we are literally just six people away from almost anyone. Remember the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game? It proves you can link almost anyone to Kevin Bacon through just six connections!
How do you make this theory work for you? Forget everything your mother ever told you! Make eye contact, talk to strangers, be yourself — or become your outgoing extrovert self and ask that stranger if they’ve had the skinny mocha Frappuccino. Was that a good book? Is this seat taken? Ask questions until you make that connection — and then keep going.
I do believe you can teach yourself this skill.
I was a quiet, shy child. My mother would tell you she never dreamed I would have a career in sales since that involved being an extrovert! I would like to challenge you to say, “I am going to strike up a conversation with someone I don’t know tomorrow.” I guarantee that if you get in this habit, you will gain new connections.
Nearly everyone likes to talk about themselves or something that they are interested in, and your goal is to figure out what they are interested in and make that connection… and then connect them to your work at your nonprofit organization.
The results can be exciting. Just this past week I connected one of our teen moms to a former board member so she could learn more about the real estate industry. I connected another young mom to my husband’s company for a potential job interview. Then I ran into a friend who offered some gently used Apple computers to donate to two of our teen moms who are about to start college.
You never know whose life can be changed by that new connection you are going to make tomorrow! What are you waiting for?