Real Networking: How I Dropped the Bravado & Practiced Vulnerability
As part of our LILA Community Series, we're asking YOU to share the valuable experiences you've learned from so we can all grow together. Today: Noel Jane Bourg, a nutritional coach based in the South Bay, tells us how she learned to re-frame networking from a transactional event to real connections.
Networking events are always painful for me. I don't have a "corporate" background. I've never been very good at following all the etiquette of networking. I hate elevator pitches. I hate business cards. I despise shaking hands. I'm cursed with hyperhydrosis, a fancy medical term to say my hands are always sweaty.
When Lean In LA said they'd be doing a conference on how to network, I was curious. I'm always a big fan of structured activities to get people to talk to each other. It takes some of the pressure off of trying to prove I'm worthy of conversation.
At the “Lean Network” Conference, the focus was to learn how to network more effectively. Let's Vibe co-founders, Diamond Greer and Karen Spears, retrained our brains on networking. Keynote speaker, Heidi Nazarudin of Ambitionista, reiterated their points with her real-life advice.
Here’s how they helped us dismantle our pre-conceived notions about networking:
1. We unmasked our true feelings
First, Diamond spoke about our vibe. She encouraged us to write on our name tag what we were feeling and to be honest. "Angry" was the word that I wrote on my name tag. After feeling a little too vulnerable, I scribbled "hopeful" underneath that.
This is because networking often feels super transactional for me. I don't actually get to CONNECT with people. Isn't that the whole point? How are you supposed to connect if everyone is spending 35 seconds judging your book by its cover?
"Great," I thought. Now everyone can judge me because I didn't write #blessed on my name tag. They 'll send me out to the wolves with my actual emotions written on my sleeve.
We split into groups of 8 people. We all had the opportunity (and obligation) to share our names and our "vibe." I got to explain why I wrote angry. Other women felt the same. It was okay that I was angry. Diamond and Karen wanted us to take ownership over what we brought to the table.
They reignited our self-awareness by having us write down our "vibes." Diamond emphasized how much our vibe affects others. She said, "People are vibing with you. So what's your vibe?" What she meant was that we're bringing something into the room whether we want to or not.
2. We put ourselves out there
Over and over again, the "Let's Vibe" ladies gave us prompts. In each exercise, we individually wrote down what we thought. Each person had to speak. Then, as a group, we came up with solutions. We discussed power, influence and freedom. This culminated in a procession of women all reading their post-its. We lined up and we each spoke out loud our definitions of freedom. In the most Instagrammable moment, we stuck them to the wall. We created a mosaic of our unique definitions.
Usually, it's only the brave people that speak. Then, those of us that didn't feel brave smugly judge the people who did open their mouths. It makes for uneven ground. It's easy to judge people when you've got nothing on the line.
But at this event, everybody had to share. Everybody had to come to the table with their thoughts and ideas. There's a kindness there that usually doesn't exist at a networking event.
3. We practiced vulnerability
The fact that each person had to write down and speak forced everyone into a place of vulnerability. According to Brene Brown, this is the only way that we can truly connect with each other. This exercise forced EVERYONE to engage. I didn't feel as vulnerable because everybody else put themselves out there, too.
Once we had all shared with each other, the tension of my morning had dissipated. At the end of the workshop, we were allowed to change our name tag "vibes". I put down "at ease."
I felt like I needed every small step in this event to get to where I felt connected enough to take some new advice. I had to take a look at my thoughts and my goals. I had to be brave enough to share them. I had to be kind enough to hold the goals of the other women there.
It turns out that connecting with people involves bringing something to the room. Connecting is the whole point of networking.
The keynote speaker, Heidi Nazarudin of the Ambitionista, reiterated this point. In her journey, she realized that shoving business cards into stranger’s hands didn't work. Nobody was following up. Nobody was emailing her back. That was because she wasn’t actually connecting with them. Once she made the effort to make networking about others, things changed.
What I learned is that networking, as Diamond and Karen called it, is more like netWERKing. This means showing up and trying to bring my whole self there. I need to own and be proud of who I am. I have to be the person that I want to meet in that room. Most importantly, I have to bring something to others in the room as well.
Photos by: Parisa Loftis (IG: @parisa.loftis)
Edited by: Lou ILagan
If you'd like to share your experience with the Lean In LA community and contribute your writing to the the LILA Community Series, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.