“All of this tires me”, confessed an artist-turned-entrepreneur recently as she made a sweeping gesture towards the fast-emptying room that had just played host to a gathering of small business owners. “This networking stuff”, she continued, “doesn’t come easy to me. I am not good at selling myself, it leaves me exhausted”.
Listening to her, I recalled just how much business networking used to tire me in the first few months of going to such meetings. How, gathering for the purpose of promoting your business often reminded me of crowded Indian vegetable markets with traders hawking their wares, each shouting louder than the other for your custom. It would all drown into a single blanket of noise where no single discernible message was heard.
At the networking meetings I attended, I’d watch as people feigned polite interest in other people’s business while simply waiting for them to finish so they can start talking about their own. And I would struggle to find something to say when it was my turn. I simply had not been trading long enough to know what I wanted and even less to say about what I had done. So I would mumble something and shuffle off to the next person handing me their business card. This process wore me down and I didn’t enjoy the pretense either.
So I changed my tact. I would go in with a view to help others. Once the ‘what do you do?-what do you do?’ exchange had taken place and the conversation had stalled, I would ask how I could help them and who would be a good introduction for them. This, I found took the pressure off me and all I had to do was to find a way of being of assistance to the other person. Helping someone was something I naturally gravitated to and enjoyed doing.
Allowing myself to not pretend anymore had a huge effect on me. Very little, other than perhaps a bruised ego, was at stake. I no longer felt I had to show how busy I was with work or flaunt the latest contract I had landed as I’d so often seen others do. So much so, at one of our weekly BNI meetings I stood up and read an email from a client who said they were disappointed with my work. Several in the audience thought it was a joke and waited for a punchline. There wasn’t one. I told them that I was at a low point and that I hoped to find my mojo soon. I asked the room for their help and it came my way surprisingly readily.
Over time, I’ve found it easy to share my fears and my failures. I’ve made more friends and found abundant kindness along the way. These days, at any networking event, I find that person in the corner looking furiously into their mobile phone as I am certain that they are only doing that because no one has spoken to them yet and they don’t know where to begin, and ask them the five words that open conversations. “How can I help you?”