Last week, I led a networking roundtable at the WILD Network Forum to Advance Women’s Leadership in International Development for emerging and seasoned female leaders. When asked about what comes to mind when they hear the word “networking” responses ranged from enthusiasm to dread. In my roundtable, I covered some tips for moving the needle a little closer to enthusiasm or at least peaceful acceptance and I also learned a lot from the speakers and participants at the event.

Some notes that I’m taking with me from the conference are:

  1. Start with people who already know you and like you. I heard this on an episode of Bootstrapped, a podcast hosted by two professors at the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland. Scott Nash, the founder of MOM’s organic market took the saying we know so well and added a twist: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know/who likes you.” That can be as simple as bringing a buddy with you or reaching out to people you know in advance to set up time to talk. The best networking conversations I have are when I get to brag about someone else’s great idea or business.
  2. Build (or build on) your reputation. So, how do you get people to like you? That’s a tough goal (and, of course, not always possible) but a reputation for good work can get you pretty far. You can build a good reputation by doing what you say you’re going to do. And, if you can’t do that, tell someone. The first part is the most important which means taking on things you can do, understanding your capabilities, and recognizing your bandwidth. Things come up, however, and sometimes you need to extend a deadline or re-prioritize. When you communicate why you need to make a change, you’re reaching out with valuable and it’s an opportunity for connection. For example, sometimes my clients will get a request for information (RFI) or request for proposal (RFP) from a corporate contact that they don’t feel is the right fit. It’s a good idea to reach out and give the contact a heads up that they are not responding to this opportunity but open to others.
  3. Take up space! The keynote speaker at the WILD Forum, Sally Helgesen, told us about a few behaviors that hold women back professionally from her book How Women Rise: Breaking the 12 Habits that are Holding You Back from your next Job, Raise, or Promotion. One habit that I recognized immediately but had not actually considered before was minimizing. Women tend to make our physical presence smaller. I like the idea of taking up more space for my voice, my stuff, and my fellow women.

    A woman stands in front of a powerpoint presentation giving a keynote speech.

    Sally Helgesen discusses a few of the habits that hold women back from her book, “How Women Rise.”

Next week I’ll be going to the WBENC National Conference and Business Fair in Detroit. For the past several months, I’ve been preparing my clients to approach a conference of 300 exhibitors and 3500 people. For some it will be their first time attending this particular conference. For others, they have been to this conference for many years and just need to re-energize around their goals. For some, building relationships at a massive event is a fun challenge; for others, it’s a chore. I plan to take these tips with me as we build relationships, strengthen networks and, most of all, have some fun.

If you’re headed to the conference in Detroit, come by booth 430! I’m making that my home base with my client, Raare Solutions. You can’t miss us because we’ll be taking up space!