I watched the big camper turn left out onto the busy roadway. US-31 is a five-lane surface street (2 each north and south and one turn lane) that runs past the state campground in Traverse City. Except for the early hours of the morning, a constant stream of cars and trucks race along it at 50 to 60 miles per hour. I don’t like to turn left onto it with a car. I can’t imagine the courage it takes to do so with a large, slow-moving camper.
The gentleman driving the house on wheels made it to the center turn lane and waited. And waited. And waited. All around him the cars whizzed past. There was no opening large enough for him to accelerate into. Finally, after five minutes, a truck slowed down enough to let him in. The camper eased into the driving lane and with a wave to his new best friend, he was on his way.
As I continued on my walk, I reflected on how this simple interaction in the middle of a busy thoroughfare mirrored the behaviors I see all the time at networking events (and by corollary the behaviors we should be displaying while attending those business gatherings).
- You have to get out there. If the camper doesn’t make the turn in the first place, then it never travels to its next big adventure. If you don’t show up for networking, you may be losing out on your next big opportunity.
- Plan your first step, then flow with the traffic. If the driver of the camper had waited until he had a clear path to get into the driving lanes, he might still be waiting. Instead he pulled into the turning lane and then adapted his approach depending on what the other cars and trucks were doing. Sometimes when you are new to a networking venue, all you can do is show up and observe what’s going on. Once you have the lay of the land, you can choose to move into participating.
- If someone gives you an opening, take it. The camper driver didn’t wave the truck past in favor of getting a “better” spot in the driving lane. He took advantage of the opportunity. When someone approaches you at a networking event and holds out their hand to say hello, don’t wait for a “better” opportunity. It probably won’t come along.
- Look to the ones who’ve been there for help. The cars around the camper weren’t the ones who let him in. To them he was just a potential obstacle. It was the driver of another large, slow-moving vehicle who made space on the road. If you are trying to grow your business through networking at a particular venue, look around for those who’ve already done that and ask for their help and advice.
- Sometimes the best helpers aren’t exactly like you. It wasn’t another camper driver that let him in. It was a big tractor trailer. Still, I bet the truck driver has had his fill of waiting to be let into a lane of traffic. If you are a financial planner, you don’t have to find another financial planner to ask for advice, you might try a successful accountant, bank loan officer, or real estate agent. The bonus on this is they won’t view you as competition.
- There just might be an easier way to join in. As I said, I’ll rarely turn left onto US-31. What I normally do is turn right, drive to a convenient parking lot on the left side of the road, and turn around. It’s a little more work, but not nearly as stressful. Instead of showing up cold to a new networking group, first contact the organizer and find out everything you can. Find someone you know who is already going or invite a colleague to attend with you. Any combination of these, while taking a little more effort, can make a big difference when you walk through the doors for the first time.
- Say thank you. All it took for the camper driver to show his appreciation was a quick wave. The truck driver feels acknowledged and is more likely to help strangers again in the future. Who, knows that same camper driver might go out of his way to help a different truck driver in the future. Be sure at the networking event you do the same thing. Find the organizer and say how much the program meant to you. Say hello to the speaker and tell them one thing you’ll use from their presentation. Thank those who’ve given you advice and recommendations. Every expression of gratitude embeds you further into the culture of the group.
While it may not feel like it at the time, merging into a new networking group is not nearly so difficult as merging into traffic on US-31. Get out there, take the chance, and make the most of the opportunities that present themselves. You never know where the road will take you.