Communicating When You’re Not Saying a Word

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Last week I attended a regional Chamber of Commerce event (by “regional” you get that I mean a smaller group, so everyone there could see everyone else) for the first time, but I knew plenty of people there, some who I hadn’t seen for a while.  And suddenly there was an older, forlorn looking estate planning attorney who I knew by name as a professional acquaintance from about 8 years ago.

So I greeted him with a classic pickup line, that if I were a male, would have been humorous, “Hey, don’t I know you from a past life?”  He looked at me but without recognition.  With my usual enthusiasm, I persisted with, “Yes, it’s Roger [confirmed on his name badge] – you’re an estate planning attorney, right?  And you had an office beside my old Merrill Lynch office on Middle St.”  He acquiesced that I was right and he had given up his solo practice to join a firm a couple of years ago.  I knew an attorney at his new firm, but couldn’t come up with Mike’s last name and neither could he.  From there I moved on to talk with other people.

At one point I looked over and saw Roger standing by himself, looking just as forlorn as before and realized that he had no idea how to network.  I chalked it up to
a)   He’s an attorney, a profession notorious for getting paid to help others and for not seeking/paying    for self-help
b)   He’s older – pretty far along in his career – giving up?
c)   He’s never been told/taught/trained on what to do at a networking event

Now I could have been a kind soul and offered him some words of advice, but since I know that people who don’t ask for help, won’t benefit from it when it is unsolicited, I refrained.  So I leave it to a close friend to do him the kindness of telling him that:
1.   When you go to a networking event, gear yourself up for the mental exercise that is necessary if you are an introvert.  Put on your game face and play like a trooper.  When someone talks to you like they know you, play along, or fake it until you make it, but don’t lose the opportunity to let an extrovert do the heavy lifting socially.

2.   Go to a networking event armed with a plan – or don’t waste your time by going at all.  The plan should be to meet 3 good connections that you can follow up with later.  Maybe it’s to help them, not you.  Maybe it’s regarding similar/shared volunteer work.  Maybe it is for mutual business.  But have the plan to stay until you get the 3 contacts, then it will be a worthwhile event.

3.   Don’t stand alone at a networking event!  Find anyone else to talk to for goodness sake, or else leave.  And if you do find yourself momentarily alone, be careful of the impression you are creating by standing there looking forlorn.  I don’t think I would ever hire or recommend an attorney that looked pitiful.  And if I noticed, others did too and took away a similar unfavorable impression.

COMMUNICATION TAKEAWAY:  Always be conscious of the impression you are creating when you are out in public – even when you think no one is noticing.  Sculpt that impression to be one of your choosing – your brand is consistently on the line.   Your brand is the emotion people feel when they see/hear/speak about you.  Is it one of competence?  Credibility?  Weakness?  Strength? (Overly) opinionated?  Etc. positive/etc. negative.   We are in the driver’s seat with our private brand, but we often forget and give up the wheel, becoming the passenger by default.

QUESTION:  Is your personal brand of your conscious choosing?  Are you consistent in the delivery of it?

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