One Sunday morning in June of 2014 six hundred and twenty-six intrepid souls jumped into the Chesapeake Bay and raced to the other side. Eighteen-year-old Andrew McKissick was the first to exit with a time of 1:29:35. What face-to-face networking lessons can we learn from the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim?
Proper form for freestyle involves putting your face in the water up to the brow. If you follow this sage advice when you put your head in the Chesapeake Bay all you see is a murky green. If you would like to get to the other side, you will have to pull your head out of the water to see where you are going. This technique is called “sighting.” Unfortunately, your head is heavy and it takes effort to raise it. If distance swimmers sighted on every stroke in a long race, they would be exhausted before the finish. However, if you only sight every mile or so you may head out to the Atlantic Ocean. The best distance swimmers adjust the number of times they sight depending on race conditions.
Let’s apply this to networking. Do not show up at an event an put your nose into your phone. Why not take a look around (sighting) to see who is at the event? Walk up to a stranger and introduce yourself. When you are speaking to someone, don’t glance around the room. Focus on the person and listen. If you are constantly “sighting,” you will gain a deserved reputation for being shifty.
Keeping with the marine theme, most conversations have ebbs and flows. Focus on the conversation and when the conversation has reached a normal transition point, look around and meet someone new. If you never “sight” you will go off course; too much “sighting” gets you exhausted.
2. SOCIAL REINFORCEMENT OF GOALS
If you tell your friends you plan on swimming the Chesapeake Bay, you build up expectations. There is a certain amount of social pressure once you make a commitment to others about a goal, whether it is a fitness goal or a networking goal. If you tell your spouse, friends, and co-workers about a target, then you really can’t bail without looking bad.
What’s a reasonable goal for a networking event? From my years of experience, a novice should be able to leave with five new business cards. Then, announce to your friends and colleagues that you are going to this specific conference and will meet five new people a day for three days. Hold yourself accountable.
An eighteen-year-old NCAA swimmer may be able to casually jump into the Chesapeake Bay and swim across, but mere mortals will need to train four times a week for at least six months to have the endurance for a 4.4 mile open water swim.
I was preparing my extemporaneous remarks ahead of time.
The lesson to be learned from Winston Churchill is there is no shame in preparing your networking questions and social media updates ahead of time. You should have an idea of what phrases you will use to engage strangers as well as having social media updates prepared ahead of time. Spell check those updates to save embarrassment later. After the event social media activity should be almost mechanical. The creative focus should be on meticulous follow-up on the discussions you had.
4. CHANGING WATER CONDITIONS
The organization that runs the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim reserves the right to cancel the swim at any time due to water conditions. Winds, tides, and upstream storm activity can all add up to make the annual swim a disaster. Forty-five mile per hour winds can drive swimmers into the rip rock that surrounds the pylons supporting the bridge.
Face to face networking activities are subject to changes as well. The venue may change, the speakers may change, weather conditions, traffic, demonstrations can always alter the event. Additionally, events have been cancelled for floods, snowstorms, and power outages. A quick glance at Google News for your area can alleviate many situations.
5. TEST THE WATER BEFORE YOU JUMP IN
Organizers of open swim competitions rely on the National Oceanic Aerospace Administration weather reports. Much like testing the water for temperature, you should always test your six standard openings and your six variable openings ahead of time. There may be people with names that have difficult pronunciations.
Here is an example. Let’s say your target is the Chief Technologist for the Public Sector for Red Hat, David Egts. When you do your research you will find his education background and the correct pronunciation of his last name. The last name is pronounced like the letter “X.”
You target an event, FedDevNation and you are ready to connect. You will get a much better reception if you know the correct pronunciation of his last name.
You may want to review hashtags ahead of time because they can get you in trouble if you aren’t careful. An inappropriate handle can sting you like a jelly fish. For example, there was once a technical blog post about a meeting at the prestigious National institute for Standards and Technology.
The marketing person composed a tweet to promote the blog post and used the hashtag “#standards” and, thankfully, tested it out before the tweet. Apparently, there is a community on Twitter who holds that “#standards” applies to teen-aged dating, not industrial specifications.
You may want to add a Google extension called Rite Tag Social Media Optimizer. You can select the best tag that will assist in your social media distribution.
6. FACE TO FACE NETWORKING IS A DISTANCE EVENT
Nobody takes a class in beginning swimming and signs up for a distance event the next day; there are no overnight champions in face to face networking either. One commits to a rigorous research program before events. Be flexible on your approach to people. Focus on learning about them and seeking ways you can assist in their endeavors. Put prepare status updates ahead of time. After the event you should be working on follow up.
If you think you are in “over your head” in the area of face to face networking, contact us. We have a wide range of workshops that can help. Give us a call to see if we are a good fit. 703-627-3830