You know that saying “It’s all about who you know.”?

It’s true.

And you have two options:

1. Complain about how other’s got where they are because of people they knew.
2. Learn how to make strong connections and grow your network.

Which one do you think is going to get you what you want? (I really hope you picked the 2nd option).

I used to think networking was scammy and slimey. It wasn’t until I started studying and getting advice from the best at social skills and networking did I realize how wrong I was, and how much I had to learn.

For example, did you know it takes 1/10th of a second for someone to judge you?

1/10th of a second!

That’s the amount of time Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov, two psychologists at Princeton, discovered during a study. Sure, some other places have increased this number to 7 seconds, either way, you don’t have much time.

Freaked out? Don’t be.

While first impressions are important, it’s not be-all and end-all. Networking is a skill you can develop. And to not suck at is more dependent on what you do before and after an event than that precious 1/10th of a second.

The great news is, you don’t need to be “a natural” to connect and build quality relationships, whether it’s with prospective clients, employers, or A-Level players in your industry.

Take the advice from these experts to take your social networking skills to the next level.

BE CAREFUL HOW YOU DESCRIBE YOURSELF

No, I’m not talking about that one story about yourself you tell at every event.

I’m talking about how you describe yourself, to yourself.

In my early 20s, I considered myself the shy, introverted, creative guy. It was my shtick. It wasn’t until I started going on dates and events later in life did I realize I wasn’t an introvert at all. In fact, people always complimented me on how outgoing I was, and how easy I am to talk to. I gave myself a label, and acted according to it.

I was talking to my girlfriend recently about going to an opening event. She was hesitant because she didn’t really know anyone that was going, and wasn’t sure if she was going to have a good time. She said:

“I’m shy until I get to know people. That’s just how I’ve always been.”

And I said to her, “Have you ever met a shy person? Truly shy? They’re shy no matter what. You open up when you get to know someone? You’re not shy, you’re normal!”

How many of you have said you’re just not stylish at one point in your life? How many of you came to that conclusion, and then started telling yourself that you’re a guy that “just doesn’t care about style”?

Do you describe yourself a certain way because of your actions, or do you act a certain way because of how you describe yourself?

We create labels for ourselves that end up becoming self fulfilling. Creating and accepting a certain label is much easier than working to improve in that one area.

Networking is a social skill. And the great thing about a skill is that it can be improved. (Just like you’ve been doing with your personal style!)

The first step in getting better at anything is to be careful of our preconceived notions. If it can be improve, improve it! Psychologists call this a growth mindset.

WHAT TO DO NEXT

Think about how you identify yourself.

Ask yourself why, and if there are any instances where the labels you’ve given yourself might have been untrue. Be brutally honest.

Do you describe yourself a certain way because of your actions, or do you act a certain way because of how you describe yourself?

Instead, can you work to improve those areas that are lacking? If so, you can start by telling yourself something I like to tell myself when it comes to skills I want to work on:

“I’m not good at it…yet.” (The yet is the most important part.)

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PROS PREPARE, AMATEURS WING IT

Let’s compare a Professional Chef with a new cook.

A new cook is frantic. Stressed.

They’re digging in their drawer for the measuring spoons. They’re burning food because they’re taking too long to cut the carrots. They’re sweating.

They look lost.

A Professional cook, on the other hand, breezes through it as if it’s automatic. He knows just the right amount of salt to put on things. He knows when the steak is done without resorting to a timer or thermometer.

Most importantly, he’s relaxed. He’s enjoying himself. 

It’s because he prepares before he starts cooking. It’s called Mise en place, to put everything in its place. They take out all the tools they need. They pre-cut, pre-measure all their ingredients before they ever turn on the stove. All that’s left to do is cook.

Pros make their jobs easier by taking the time to prepare before hand. Amateurs think they can wing it.

When I was still dating, I had a rule: Never take a girl to a place I’ve never been to.

Why?

Because first dates were already nerve wracking, and adding an unknown element, the location, just made it worse for me. So I’d make sure to check out a place a few times beforehand with some friends.

This allowed me to:

  1. See if the place is any good to begin with.
  2. Ask the staff what were the best (and worst) times to go there.
  3. Gauge the noise levels. You want ambiance, but you don’t want to be screaming into your date’s ear to have a conversation.
  4. Find out what were popular items on the menu. When my date asked me “What’s good here?” I wouldn’t say something basic like “I don’t know.”

Just like chef’s doing mise en place, investing a bit more time to prepare for dates made the actual date much easier.

Want to be a pro at your next event? Take a little time to prepare.

WHAT TO DO NEXT

Set aside time to do some research. How much? As much as you can. Even for last minute events, 30 minutes of Googling is much better than being completely in the dark.

The Event

  • Look up where it’s being held, see if there are any photos online of the space. If you can check it out in-person ahead of time, even better.
  • Research any speakers or VIPs that might be there. Read a few of their current blog posts. Watch any YouTube videos they might have up (speeches, keynotes, videos they’ve posted). Listen to any podcast interviews they might be in. Jot down a few notes on things that stuck out to you, these can be used as an easy way to introduce yourself.
  • Past events can be a goldmine. Look for any sites or Facebook posts from the event hosts of past events. Observe what people are wearing in photos. Search for reviews or write ups on past attendees. “Takeaway” posts on blogs, sites like Medium and Facebook post are very popular. People love sharing their experiences of an event with others. This is a great opportunity to get a sense of the conversations people have and the overall vibe of the crowd.

Who’s Coming?

A lot of events will share the list of people attending publicly, like in a Facebook event page. Do some light research to see who RSVP’d, and note if there’s something that might be worth seeking out. Check out their work online. Just don’t make the mistake I did once and bring up something they posted on a personal account, rather than a business account. That was a little awkward and creepy. Don’t be creepy.

Last, decide what you’re going to wear ahead of time

What if your “ideal outfit” isn’t ironed yet, or worse, dirty and in the hamper? Give yourself some extra time to prepare for the worst. Speaking of clothes…

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CLOTHES DON’T MAKE THE MAN, BUT THEY SURE ENHANCE HIM

When you first meet someone, the majority of what they think about you comes from your appearance. It’s called thin slicing — to make snap judgments about a person based on all the information that have of you at hand.

If they’ve never met you before, the only thing they can judge you on is how you look. This isn’t necessarily bad, it’s evolutionary survival. It’s the caveman way of trying to figure out if the person approaching you is a friend or foe. It’s reality.

If a picture’s worth a thousand words, how much is your in-person appearance worth?

How you look says a lot about you. It’s a safe bet that someone that is well kept takes care of themselves and has their life in order. It’s also a safe bet to assume someone in nice clothes is successful, and might be worth a conversation or two.

By contrast, someone that looks like a mess most likely has a messy, out of control life. It’s best to stay far away.

The great thing is, we can control the conversation. And it can be a very powerful tool. Take a look at this study showing patients were more likely to trust a doctor when they’re wearing a white lab coat. Whether you’re trying to tell a first date you got your shit together, or tell a potential client you’re successful and want to make them successful too, dressing well is a powerful weapon to give you the edge in life.

WHAT TO DO NEXT

Need some networking outfit ideas? I pulled together a few of my own Go-To outfits into a short guide.

Just enter your name and e-mail below and I’ll send you the guide.

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Then, use this trick I came up with to make myself feel extremely relaxed and comfortable before an event.

A day before the event, wear the outfit you picked out for an entire day.

I do this to help me “break-in” my outfit. 

This is perfect for outfits you buy new just for an event, or even clothes you’ve owned for a while. It might be clothes deep in your closet that you only pull out for such occasions.

For me, that’s a full suit. I like to wear it the day before to make me feel more comfortable. I’ve found this helped reduce any unconscious fidgeting I tend to do with my outfit when I’m at an event.

Short on time? Change into the outfit in the morning or as early as possible, wear it around your apartment or go do some errands.  

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HOW TO ALWAYS HAVE SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT

Next time you’re at an event crowded in a group, take a look around. There will be probably 1 or 2 people dominating a conversation, and a couple people hovering, waiting to jump in. (Or not at all, giving silent and really awkward smiles and nods.)

Even though I’ve gotten better that social events, I still find myself in these situations as that hovering person, especially when the group is talking about things I don’t know much about.

Felicia Spahr, charisma coach and founder of Instantly Irresistible, gave me a great hack she developed for this very situation.

She calls it the “Read, Watch, Do” technique, and it ties in beautifully to my point before about preparing:

“This is a technique I tested out with private clients and in my course, Be Magnetic, that guarantees you’ll always have interesting topics to talk about. All you have to do before any group situation is think about (and write down) 1 interesting article you’ve read, 1 movie/video/or TV show you’ve watched that caught your attention, and 1 activity you did that you loved–or even hated!–that week.

Why?

Think about the dynamic of a group. For the most part, it’s a rapid fire discussion, people are feeding off of each other’s ideas, and there’s no singular direction. The benefit of having a few nuggets of interesting news in your back pocket is highly valuable because you don’t have to sit there and rack your brain for what to say.”

WHAT TO DO NEXT

Check out Felicia’s detailed post over at Instantly Irresistible to learn about the “Read, Watch, Do” technique.

She not only gives you a specific example on how to apply it, but also teaches you an additional trick to jump into different groups and work an entire room!

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HOW TO GRACEFULLY LEAVE A CONVERSATION

At an event for entrepreneurs a few months ago, I experienced what’s arguably the second biggest fear people have at events, right after cold approaching people.

I got stuck talking to a guy I didn’t want to talk to, for a good 40 minutes.

Not only was he mostly interested in talking about himself, he also had some really strange and terrible ideas when it came to business. (Trust me, this is me being nice about it.)

I didn’t want to be rude and leave while he was talking.

In retrospect, he was the one being rude by ignoring social cues and monopolizing my time. I finally broke free when I spotted a friend of mine and told him I was going to say hi to her.

After that night, I vowed never to be caught in that situation again.

The solution I found and use now? It comes from Ramit Sethi, New York Times Best Selling author and founder of I Will Teach and Growth Lab. Ramit happens to be one of the few people I consider a master at social skills and speaking.

When you feel like a conversation is dying down or, as with my situation, find yourself “stuck” in a conversation with someone and want to move on, Ramit recommends you do this:

Extend your hand for a handshake and say:

“Hey, it was a pleasure meeting you. Thanks so much for chatting.”

Simple and direct. So far, I’ve had 100% success rate with this technique.

We have this tendency to be drawn to people we already know at events because it’s really comfortable. But the point of a networking event is to network! To expand your relationship beyond the people you already know. So even if the conversation is going relatively well, Ramit’s technique to exiting a conversation is extremely useful when you want to work a room and meet new people.

WHAT TO DO NEXT

So what happens if the person you’re trying to move on from doesn’t get the hint and keeps on talking?

Check out Ramit’s amazing “Ultimate Guide on Social Skills” to learn what to say in that situation, and a whole lot more.

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HOW TO FOLLOW-UP TO BUILD LONG LASTING RELATIONSHIPS (WITHOUT LOOKING AWKWARD)

Great business relationships are simply friendships with a bit of business thrown in the mix.

So how to do take a new connection and develop it into a great business friendship, without coming off desperate or awkward?

Well, it depends.

How you met that person will dictate the best way to follow up, according to our good friend Felicia Spahr of Instantly Irresistible.

Her advice when it comes someone you met at a group event?

“It’s much better to follow-up a day or two after [rather than immediately after the event]. Especially if you haven’t had an intimate [1-on-1] conversation with this person.”

Wait at least a day or two, shoot them an e-mail or text with this script Felicia shares with us:

“Hey [NAME]

It was so great meeting you the other night. Loved talking about [THING YOU CONNECTED ON], looking forward to seeing you again!”

Felicia says you can just end there, no need to rush and try to make plans yet.

Then, when an event pops up a week or two later that would be a good fit for the person you connected with, reach out to them again with an invite.

“Hey [NAME],

I’m going to [EVENT], this would be perfect for you. You’d love it. You should come.”

Keep it simple and light. An invite to an event is a perfect place to reconnect. There’s a lot less pressure to say yes in comparison to something like a 1-on-1 coffee meeting. But it also shows them you have them in mind and keep the connection going.

WHAT TO DO NEXT

Met someone outside of a group event and want to know what to do? Check out Felicia’s Free 9-minute video breaking down different situations, complete with different follow-ups you can use.

***

Notice that all the things we’re afraid of when it comes to networking events – wondering who’s going to be there, having something to talk about, what to wear – can all be mastered with a little intelligent preparation.

Put everything in it’s place before you start.

Be the pro chef, not the amateur cook!

In the comments below, let me know your #1 takeaway from this post.

peter@theessentialman.com'
Author

Hi, I’m Peter. I spent 11 years as a menswear designer here in NYC. Now, I help some of the most successful men look really good as a Private Personal Stylist and writer of The Essential Man. You can learn more about what I do by clicking here

  • Peter,

    Love this post! Thanks for writing it.

    This quote really stuck out for me: “Do you describe yourself a certain way because of your actions, or do you act a certain way because of how you describe yourself?”

    So key. I remember a time when I would label myself as awkward, incompetent, stupid, etc. Then, of course, I acted in a way that was consistent with that label. Self-perpetuating cycle. Ugh.

    After some (okay, a lot) of inner work, I was able to break the cycle. Still, it’s good to revisit this concept, because other labels can sneak up on you if you’re not careful.

    Change the label, change your life. 🙂

    • Peter Nguyen

      Thanks Jeff. Glad you loved it!

      Totally right, change the label change your life. For the longest time I told myself “I was the awkward funny guy.” and always acted accordingly. I agree, even if you get over one label, you can pigeon hole yourself into another. A good example for us would be “Hustler entrepreneur” (aka “always in work mode” can’t have fun). That’s something I’ve been conscious of lately.

      • That’s a really good point. I realized a few weeks ago that I rarley completely unplug. So now I’m (slowly) adopting the mindset of “Radically off until I’m on”.

        This means when I’m not working, I have to be 100% off. No checking email, or stats. This way when I’m “on” I can be fully recharged.

        Morning meditation also helps me with this. 🙂