So maybe youíre not born with it
- acquiring networking skills takes time and practice The world of Entrepreneurship
By Judette Coward
Stabroek News

August 31, 2003


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In the midst of all the talk about networking that has choked my thoughts recently, there is one statement that still echoes in my mind. It was a message that was transmitted from one beautiful woman to another in an ad that sells mascara in one of those glossy fashion magazines: ďMaybe youíre born with it.Ē

Iíve wanted to dismiss these words as the optimistic bravado of a good advertising campaign that knows how to pander to the fears and hopes of a mass audience.

There was no evidence after all, that any successful networker possessed traits that were genetically superior to the non-networker. There was no suggestion that genetics had anything to do with networking. And maybe it doesnít. But I tell you, each time I attended a cocktail party during the first two years of being on my own, each time I represented my business at a function trying to meet the right people and get in the loop (I maintain that the best business always happens after business hours) I would remain in my comfort zone, which was usually at the edge of the buzzing crowd, chatting with the people that I came with or knew. I simply never knew how to move out of the boundaries I set. Hours before, I would put on my high confidence ruby red Fashion Fair lipstick in the mirror at home resolving to go up to the right people to meet them, but when I arrived, I was frozen in place.

But always and forever when youíre an entrepreneur the ghost of business lost as well as the fear of failure will haunt you and then compel you to extend yourself, to find out what it takes to make your business a success. If successful networking skills at functions is a necessary skill, you just do it.

At the cocktail parties I stopped hiding and started observing.

Great networkers, I noted, were nosey, well-dressed people. They had an aura and behaviour that was as recognisable as a shooting star on a clear night. You need not be a discerning observer to chronicle this, but networkers, the successful ones, were always aware and alert; they were the ones not afraid to walk up to the contact they wanted to meet, introduce themselves and chat. Most importantly, they had mastered the art of listening. Listening, I supposed, as I watched from the fringes, helped them to identify the opportunities that others may have missed. They also possessed a tremendous sense of self and responsibility. Entrepreneurship teaches you that, but great networkers knew they were in charge of their businesses and as such were willing to learn to make requests, to learn and share. They were willing to be responsible for creating a networking system, using it and helping others do the same.

Timing was just as critical as the sense of responsibility you had to possess; this skill involved being sensitive to the people you wanted to meet, knowing when to approach them at functions, finding out and asking for a meeting during that period.

It is a curious thing, inventory taking, looking at your own strengths and weaknesses, looking at the behavioural pattern of others in order to increase your own professional and personal effectiveness. By observing character and circumstances, behaviour and style can be learnt for great networking success.

Entering my fifth year of business ownership I know what it takes to network successfully. I come to all events organised and ready to work; I donít expect people will come up to me, I go to them. I am prepared with the topical issues, information so Iíll have a starting point from which to say hello.

I also generate enthusiasm, I believe, and Iíve seen how it becomes a key ingredient for making things happen. And I never leave home without wearing my ruby red lipstick.

Maybe I wasnít born with it. Maybe. But if only you could see me now. E-mail her at judettecoward@hotmail.com.

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