Living in Chicago, networking is an essential part of my everyday life. Not only does it help to grow my brand but it also allows me to connect with a community “or tribe” of support. Did you know that 85% of all jobs are filled via networking? Which means, that networking is essential for growing your business.
As a member of the Board of Directors and Chair of Membership Engagement for the Lincoln Park Chicago Chamber of Commerce along with being a member of multiple professional associations around the city, networking events make up the majority of my week. This includes morning coffee connections, business after hours, joint chamber networking functions, and professional development events. Perhaps these gatherings can be overwhelming for some people, but I believe it all depends on how you look at it.
Luckily I have found a way to not make networking all about booze, unhealthy foods, and the typical business card hand off. I think of networking more of an experience to meet new and interesting people and expand my “network.”
What I have found to be the most valuable part of networking is the relationship building. It’s the relationship that always creates the sale. Always. As you start to strengthen your relationships and naturally share more about your expertise, people can’t help but think about you when the need for your services arises. It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you and what they say about you when you aren’t there.
As a Registered Dietitian & Professional Speaker on Mindful Living, I have found that the best way to establish meaningful relationships at these networking functions is by taking a mindfulness approach. It’s about not over indulging in the “bad stuff” that comes with these functions or thinking of your next networking event as “work” or a “chore.”
Mindfulness is the art of paying attention on purpose. It allows you to be completely engaged and present. When you practice mindfulness you aren’t comparing yourself to others and what others are doing better than you, you are focusing on being more of who are. After all, it’s our authentic self that creates the sale. You can’t fake authenticity. And authenticity is what people truly want.
One of the best ways to practice mindfulness is to get out of your comfort zone. AKA: networking.
People don’t like to feel uncomfortable in any situation in their life, work or business. As a result, people will go to great lengths to avoid situations that make them feel uncomfortable. Unfortunately, that can hold many back from creating change, achieving goals and reaching their true potential.
One of the most important steps to personal greatness is personal growth. But growth feels awkward. To grow, you have to embrace the discomfort. It feels awkward. It’s uncomfortable. But to unleash your potential, and expand your abilities, you have to embrace change and discomfort as a part of the journey.
Do you think that you can transform your body without a little sweating or healthy food preparation? We wish right? But, in order for change to truly happen, we have to get a little uncomfortable. That’s when growth happens and where we have the biggest reward.
“To be outstanding, get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
It’s time to get uncomfortable and transform your business, life, and relationships. And according to Forbes, “putting yourself in new and unfamiliar situations triggers a unique part of the brain that releases dopamine, nature’s make-you-happy chemical. Here’s the mind-blower; that unique region of the brain is only activated when you see or experience completely new things.” And when we are happier, we feel more engaged, more present and can live a more purposeful life.
The definition of networking is to interact with other people, to exchange information, develop contacts, and further one’s career. This is the main reason you network. It’s not because of the booze and unhealthy food. Sure, that’s a big part of it since food is social, but it is not everything.
Plan ahead for these events and work them into your lifestyle. Of course, no one wants to network every single night of the week, but if you plan ahead for these events every so often, it will allow you to make the most of your experience.
Sure, you may want to indulge a bit at these occasions, so plan ahead.
I use a little secret called the 80/20 Rule. This means that 80% of the time, I make healthy lifestyle choices and 20% of the time I make room for the things I love or networking functions. Typically Monday through Friday I find ways to work in daily movement, eat healthy foods, cook more meals at home, drink half my body weight in ounces of water per day, and get 7-8 hours of sleep each night. That means that come the weekend or at that next networking function, I can indulge a bit, have little fun, and not give up my health or feel guilty. It also allows me to make these experiences much more rewarding and meaningful. Plus, we don’t get pleasure when we over do things or over indulge.
Use this rule when planning out various networking functions. This gives you 4 meals out of the week where you can splurge a bit or have a glass of wine or a burger at your next networking function.
Do you really need that beer or glass of wine during a 1-2 hour networking event? How about those French fries or sliders?
Perhaps you aren’t sure how to network without a cocktail in your hand and need the liquid courage or confidence to socialize. News flash, the courage came when you made your way to the networking event and the confidence came when you walked through the door. That’s the hardest part. The rest is easy breezy. Everyone is there to grow his or her network and get to know someone new. Immediately start talking to someone you have never met or join the conversation of the first group you see. Don’t think about it, just do it.
If you must have a drink-- go to the bar and get a Pellegrino (sparkling water) with lemon or a lime. No one will know that you aren’t drinking and you won’t feel the pressure from others to have a cocktail. Most networking events I attend I typically don’t drink because I don’t really find the point of having 1-2 drinks on a Tuesday night.
I also find that I don’t want to waste my “20%” on a glass of crappy wine from the bar. I would rather save myself for a night where I am at a good restaurant with a good meal, good people and a good bottle of wine.
Also, most “networkers” know that it is nearly impossible to drink, eat small bites, and socialize all at the same time. Contrary to popular belief, multi-tasking is not productive. It makes our mind wander and does not allow us to be fully present or engaged. Don’t worry about grabbing those unhealthy bites. I promise you won’t starve to death. Instead, eat something healthy before or after your networking event.
The One- Bite Rule
If you feel that you must eat the food at your next function, go with the one- bite rule. That means that you savor your very first bite. Really taste it, chew it and determine whether it is truly worth it or not. Remember that there are so many amazingly delicious things in this world that you should never waste it on something that is so not worth it. Again, plan ahead for your 20% and make it count.
Did you know that you are an average of the five people you surround yourself with the most? Find a network where you can surround yourself with people who have similar goals and lifestyle. Networking events come in all shapes and sizes.
At my local Chamber of Commerce, we have many networking events that revolve around healthy food and fitness since health and wellness is a huge focus at many organizations. Majority of our members are interested in living healthier and better lives.
I recently sponsored a Chamber networking breakfast at a family chiropractor office in Chicago where I was able to prepare healthy breakfast bites from my cookbook and connect with like- minded people. People absolutely loved these healthier options. It’s the story of food that is so powerful—people always want the story. I can’t tell you how many great connections I made at this networking event and all of the business I reaped from sharing my expertise in a healthy and unique way. The Lincoln Park Chamber of Commerce is definitely my favorite networking group because of how progressive they are in offering their members new and dynamic ways to build relationships.
For me my “network of five” includes my husband, yoga community, Lincoln Park Chamber of Commerce, family, and closest friends. Who makes up your top five? What are your favorite networking groups?
"Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flames.”
Networking groups and associations strive to give members what they want. First and foremost, they want their members to feel engaged and feel a part of their community. Living healthier is one of the most powerful ways to feel more engaged, happier, and present.
Suggest healthier networking ideas to the staff or board members of your group. Some ideas include:
Another great way to “liven” up your networking events is to get involved or join your associations planning committee or executive board.
Bottom line is that networking events are an essential piece to growing your brand and company. It is also makes for a great way to establish a presence in your community. Take a mindfulness approach when it comes to networking and try to find the right “network” for you. I guarantee it will be well worth your time and money.
“It’s impossible,” said pride. “It’s risky,” said experience. “It’s pointless,” said reason. “Give it a try,” whispered the heart.