I meet a lot of people. It’s my job. I came to realise many years ago that “Who you know determines who you become in life”.
Behind every successful person is a sound and well-nurtured network. The most successful people are always the best connected. They have invested in their future by realising the importance of “getting out more”. A low profile carries a high cost.
The most significant opportunities in your future life as an executive secretary will almost certainly come about as a direct or an indirect result of who you meet and get to know. And (very importantly) who they know; both inside your company and across your industry. It’s not only the quality of your work.
For others to recommend you, they need to know, like, trust, value and respect you as a person. Why? Because no one can afford to put their own reputation on the line by recommending someone who will (or could) let them down.
Therefore who you get to know in the years to come is incredibly important to you regardless of what you may think at the moment or how busy you believe you are.
This starts right now.
However, the biggest problem most people face (and this includes even the most senior, highly experienced men and women) is that nearly everybody feels uncomfortable about initiating conversations with people they don’t yet know. Walking into a room of strangers makes a lot of people feel self-conscious and inadequate (wrongly believing that you are ‘only’ a secretary). In my talks on this subject, I usually joke that it’s the fault of our mothers because who hasn’t had it drummed into them from an early age “Don’t talk to strangers! It’s dangerous!”
As we all get older, this is something we really need to rethink. Talk to more strangers in the workplace because it’s good for your career.
We all realise the need to meet new people, but often feel gut-wrenchingly awkward about doing so and will go out of our way to find ways to convince ourselves that we’re “too busy right now” to initiate conversations. We don’t know what to say. We worry about what people will think of us. We worry about being rejected and, of course, there’s “no point” because we can’t ever remember anybody’s name anyway!
If this describes you all of these “afflictions” are more common than you would imagine. If you are a sufferer – trust me – you are in the majority. Therefore there is nothing wrong with you.
Develop the mindset that strangers within your organisation are merely friends you have yet to meet.
Suggesting the following to particularly intelligent readers is almost embarrassing, but over the years I’ve found that most people (especially intelligent ones!) wait for others to initiate conversations. Within your company and at industry events, as basic as this is – make a point of initiating contact with at least three new people every day. Simply smile and in an upbeat, friendly way just say “Hello”. The objective is to just be more friendly. Help others feel noticed and appreciated. This is the first step towards building potentially valuable future relationships. And it’s simultaneously the first step towards enhancing your professional reputation.
Your attitude towards others, how easy you are to work with and your reliability are qualities that influence what others say about you behind your back. And is a hugely important part of reputation building. The more people you meet, the more likely it is that colleagues will start to talk well of you to their colleagues.
As difficult as it may be to accept, adopting these simple new behaviours will become just as important to your career as those qualifications you worked so hard to acquire.
The tips and ideas below will help you, your colleagues and delegates (especially if you decide to share this information), to meet new people and make valuable connections at every future meeting. Some may serve as just a reminder to help you maximize your networking opportunities.
•Adopt this mindset: I wonder how many of these people are friends I simply haven’t yet met? This is a fantastic way to relax.
•Decide that you are going to meet new people – not just spend time “clumping” with those you already know.
•Scan the delegate list to identify people you would like to meet. Find them and introduce yourself. Or get someone you know to make the introductions for you.
•Make a point of volunteering to introduce people to help others. If you are “on-duty” this is a perfect way to be a fantastic host/ess whilst simultaneously meeting potentially valuable contacts.
Make sure you get everyone’s names right!
•Bite the bullet – go up to strangers (even though our mothers tell us not to!) As author Susan Jeffers says “Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway”.
•Specifically target individuals who look a bit lost. Help them feel more welcome.
•Stay until you have met and connected with a pre-determined number of people. Start with just one or two – as your confidence (and success grows) build it up to five or six.
•Think more about what help you are looking for. So when you’re asked, you know!
•Think about the needs of your best contacts – how could you help them achieve their needs through any new people you meet?
•If you can, get to talk to the speakers before they speak. Most speakers value any insights they can get from audience members ahead of time. It’s also nice for them to see “friendly faces” when they are presenting.
•Stand up. Sitting down at a networking event doesn’t work.
•Give your name first. It helps put people at ease. Then ask for their name.
•Listen more carefully to others’ names. Repeat the name until it is lodged in your brain. If you didn’t quite catch their name ask for it to be repeated, rather than “letting it go”.
•Imagine a close friend will join you and stand there waiting to be introduced. This will force you to pay more attention. It happens!
•Starting a conversation can be daunting for some people. Talk about common interests – what they want from the meeting, how long they’ve worked for their company, what they like about their role, what else they would like to do, are there any speakers they are particularly keen to hear, what they think of anyone they’ve already heard?
•Focus on finding ways to be of value to others – initially, forget what’s in it for you. Do this by offering opportunities to others – information, referrals and recommendations with little or even no desire for a “return favour”. Offers with strings attached are not offers.
•In order to help others, you need to know what they want. To find out, ask lots of non-threatening questions about them, share stuff about you too so it’s not seen an inquisition.
•Don’t spray your business cards around like a tomcat! When you meet someone interesting, collect their business card.
•Men in particular are still prone to dismiss support or junior staff such as executive assistants, waiting staff and those on security because they can all be huge allies, or your biggest enemies. Spouses also have far more power and influence than some imagine. Nurture them. Get to know them as people. Look after their interests and they will recognize and reward you by providing access to their decision-making “superiors”.
•Think of relevant questions to ask the speaker after their presentations. Then take the opportunity to do so if invited.
•When you meet new people, find out enough about them to have a valid reason to follow up with a call, SMS message or email. Perhaps you can send them some appropriate information that you promised.