Even he was an unskilled white belt
at one time.

We’re in the middle of “Black Belt Camp” down at Keith Hafner’s Karate. This is a four-month period of intensified training and testing that Black Belt candidates have to go through in order to achieve their next belt. Over the course of this time we give each student a series of cumulative tests in a variety of areas. Starting out with the earliest exams, they have to show simple memorization of the requisite techniques. By the end of that period, they will have sharpened their skills to a dramatic degree, able to demonstrate not only rote memorization, but also the ability to deliver those skills with accuracy and intensity in even the most adverse of situations.

Now we could just test them at the level we expect for the final exam. Some schools do that, and I’m sure they do just fine. The way we do it, though, helps the students achieve a better success rate with a lot less discouragement in the long run.

To experience similar levels of success, new networkers should approach their networking skills in the same way. Too often I’ve seen people try to start out networking (or even attempt a new technique) and expect themselves to “hit it out of the park” right from the start. This can lead to a lot of frustration. Instead, I recommend setting the bar as low as possible at first. If you’ve never attended a networking event before, expecting to come back to the office with an actual signed contract (or return home with a new job) is unrealistic.

Heck, even expecting to make two new connections might be too much to expect right at the start.

Make your initial goals as simple as possible and yet still have meaning. If you are attending an event, set a goal to practice just one technique of networking at a gathering (like showing up ten minutes early, for example). If you can achieve that one thing, then the event is a success.

I know it sounds like we are “dumbing down” the process in order to make ourselves feel good. Ironically, though, just achieving success in one simple area can end up showing results almost immediately. Take the example of showing up early. If you can achieve this, then it’s far more likely you will feel comfortable walking into the room in the first place. Also, given that there are likely to be far fewer people there when you arrive, you are much more likely to strike up a conversation with one of them — a good start for a new networking relationship.

Of course, over time, you will add more techniques and skills to your repertoire. You will develop systems to refine your process and your results. Each will build on the layers you’ve already established until you will be networking with a skill which would have seemed impossible to you that first day you walked into the Chamber networking lunch.

As our Grandmaster often quotes “Do not despise small beginnings”. We don’t expect our white belts to break boards with a flying side kick on the first day of class. Give yourself the same leeway as you train for your networking Black Belt.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons