Learn how you can effectively network—even if you hate doing it!
Envision the following scenario: You’re in a crowded room full of fitness professionals. Business cards are flying out of pockets as if possessed. Handshakes occur at a rate that makes a NASCAR race look like a slow crawl. There is a constant hum from the sound of voices weaving together in a cheerful harmony.
What’s your reaction? If you’re part of the card-flying, hand-shaking, voice-weaving crowd, chances are you’ve mastered the art of networking. If, however, sweat has formed on your brow and you’re one of the poor souls hoping to disappear into the wall (or is that you hiding under the table?), you could use a crash course—and a shot of confidence! And now is the perfect time to improve your networking abilities, with the IDEA World Fitness Convention® happening next month!
Some people assume that fitness professionals, who work with people one-on-one or teach in front of a class, are all extroverts. However, there are various levels of introversion. For instance, I am very comfortable speaking in front of a group or working one-on-one with someone in a professional environment. But put me in a room with someone in a casual context and I want to just melt away— especially if the other person is also an introvert! People like us need to really work at, and be convinced of, this whole networking thing.
“I find that networking with other fitness professionals allows me to become a better fitness instructor and manager because I am able to share my experiences and solicit advice from others in the field,” says Amanda Vogel, MA, vice president of FitCity for Women in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Vogel, an introvert at heart, points out that networking goes beyond the fitness industry. It has made FitCity more prominent in the community as a result of other businesses displaying the club’s class schedules. It has also allowed the FitCity staff to barter with other health professionals—a win-win relationship.
“One often overlooked benefit of networking,” adds Sharron Senter, producer of the networking etiquette teleseminar “Mingling for More Money,” “is meeting ‘influencers’—people who may not do business with you, but know other people who will and will refer these people to you. I find influencers to be the most valuable audience to network with!”
While you may be convinced that networking has its perks, how do you control your shaky hands and butterfly stomach? Experts recommend starting with what comes naturally, in an environment in which you’re comfortable.
“I find that health and fitness professionals who simply get out and into the community by doing free screenings, health fairs, community support, etc., find that most people ask them about their business and they don’t have to get into a sales mode,” says Terri Levine, president of Comprehensive Coaching U. “Let your passion [about health and fitness] pull you forward, and the words will come forth without effort!”
Vogel recommends putting technology to use. “I find that e-mail is a comfortable way to introduce yourself and start a networking relationship. Meeting your networking partners face-to-face is a lot easier when you have already developed a rapport through e-mail.”
For an event like the IDEA World Fitness Convention, Annette Richmond, MA, founder of career-intelligence.com, suggests approaching people who are off by themselves. “People who are nervous or shy should focus on helping others feel more comfortable. There are always people standing alone, off to the side, hoping that someone will come over and talk to them. Go over, put out your hand and introduce yourself. When you focus on helping others, you’ll feel less insecure.”
When you do summon up your courage to approach a new person, how can you make a good first impression? Patti Hathaway, aka “The Change Agent” and a certified speaking professional, says to apply CONTACT to your networking efforts. If you’re naturally outgoing, you may already do these steps. If you are introverted, you will have to practice!
Confidence: Project self-confidence through your handshake, eye contact and willingness to risk yourself first by initiating the contact.
Outer Appearance: Dress in a manner appropriate for the situation. Look at what other respected people in your organization wear, and dress similarly.
Names: When you meet someone, learn and use the person’s name.
Talk: Speak to communicate, not to impress. Make sure your tone, inflection and pitch are upbeat and positive. Get the other person to talk about himself.
Acceptance: Suspend judgment and withhold assumptions. Make the other person feel he’s the most important person you will meet that day.
Consideration: Strive to have the other person feel better after interacting with you.
Trust: Listen to the other person, to develop trust. (See “Networking Resources” on page 105 for articles on how to be a good listener.)
End the conversation by handing the person your business card, extending your hand for a closing shake and saying something like, “I’d love to hear from you again” or “Please let me know if there’s anything I can do for you.” Be sure to ask for his card, too!
Networking can be even more stressful if you have trouble remembering names. However, remembering names is the most important networking skill, notes Don Gabor, author of Words That Win: What to Say to Get What You Want (Prentice Hall Press/Penguin-Putnam 2003). Here are some tips from Gabor to help you remember the name that goes with the face:
- Give the introduction your complete attention.
- Establish eye contact, smile and shake hands.
- Don’t think about what you’re going to say next.
- Listen carefully for the name; immediately repeat it aloud.
- Associate the name with a physical or personal characteristic of the person’s business or with someone you know whose name is the same or similar.
- Picture the letter of the first name on the person’s face.
- Use the name throughout the conversation—especially when parting.
- If you forget the name, say, “Tell me your name again,” and repeat the previous four steps.
So, all you introverts: Take a deep breath, wipe those sweaty palms and put on a smile. You, too, can come away from your next event with a pocketful of business cards and contacts to help boost your career to the next level!