The Most Important Networking Skill? Showing Up

Do you skip networking events becuase you don't see the value? Lisa explains why sometimes the most important networking skill is just showing up.

Lisa B. Marshall,
December 11, 2015

Recently, I was invited to deliver a three-hour workshop titled "Developing Your National Reputation Through Networking," for faculty at a large academic institution. The program covers evidence-based skills and techniques to enhance both in-person interpersonal networking skills and digital professional networking via social media. Although over 70+ faculty registered for the event, only about 45 or so people attended. After the program, the event director made a very astute comment. She bemoaned, “Sometimes the most important part of networking is just showing up!”  

She was right!  I couldn’t agree more.

In fact, after the program I was answering questions from individuals who came up to talk with me. When I was done, I overheard the tail end of conversation a woman cardiologist was having with the program director. Just by chatting after the program, they realized they could each benefit from working together and were working out the details of the next steps. 

Selfishly, while they were talking, I was thinking about how the cardiologist may be able to help me. Each year, I deliver a program to the top women cardiology fellows from across the U.S. The cardiologist had just mentioned her role in some local professional development activities, so I invited her to participate in a video interview, which I could then show as part of my program each year. Frankly,  I was thinking of the benefit to me and the attendees, but later, I realized there was also a tremendous benefit for her. She would be “connecting” with the best and brightest year after year—growing her network, somewhat effortlessly. 

The point I’m trying to make is that many times we can’t gauge ahead of time the value of an event, so we choose to skip it—but that is a mistake! Opportunities arise simply as the result of showing up—as a result of taking some small action, like striking up a conversation with someone. 

Although my networking workshop is designed to educate the attendees on skills and techniques, a big element of the program are exercises that put the skills into practice. I sometimes jokingly refer to it as “forced networking.” Yes, for some it can be a bit uncomfortable, but I know from experience (and research), that, ultimately, people enjoy this element of the program.

It’s interesting to me that participants seem to be surprised when they make a connection that can have a real impact on their work. Since I often go back to the same institutions to deliver this program year after year, I frequently hear anecdotes from people who developed a strong relationship with someone they initially met at my program, which ultimately turned into a valuable collaboration. I sometimes follow-up more broadly and, typically, about 40% report that a connection made during the program (which they further developed in order to benefit their career).  

So here’s the bottom line: Show-up!  Woodly Allen was credited with saying "showing up is 80 percent of life." Create opportunity for yourself by first showing up and then putting your interpersonal and social media skills (that you've learned by listening to The Public Speaker podcast or reading my articles, attending one of my workshops, or reading my book Smart Talk) to good use! 

This is Lisa B. Marshall helping you to lead and influence.  If you'd like to learn more about compelling communication, I invite you to read my bestselling books, Smart Talk and Ace Your Interview and listen to my other podcast, Smart Talk. As always, your success is my business

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