I recently attended the Orientation for Project Diversity — an 8 month leadership development program through the United Way of Central Ohio — where I met my fellow co-participants. Many of my cohort members are business professionals employed in powerhouse organizations around Columbus, including Grange Insurance (a longtime sponsor of the program), Nationwide Insurance, PNC Bank and others. In those types of setting, I frequently feel a little “out of sorts.” In my attempt to make a good impression, I decided to use social media to help me feel more comfortable in this crowd of prestigious individuals.
Once I received the list of attendees, I reviewed each person’s professional profile on LinkedIn and sent out an invitation to connect. Since, many people don’t use LinkedIn as much as I do, I also reached out to my co-participants on Facebook as well. What this experience taught me is that to Reach Out Before, Reap the Benefits After. A few things this strategy can offer that may make it appealing to consider next time you are preparing to be in a room full of people you do not know, but know you are charged with “networking” and building relationships.
Lay of the Land Reviewing the LinkedIn and Facebook profiles of the anticipated group can give you an understanding of who will be in the room. This is great because it provides an opportunity to consider what common interests, professional careers aspects, hometown, or associates you might have in common. I appreciate this aspect of reaching out before, because I can develop a few speaking points to have ready and not feel as though I’m “grasping for straws” trying to keep the conversation going.
Name–Face Recognition Everyone knows that those great at networking have an outstanding memory — they can always match a name with a face. If you’re like me, that is not your strong suite. So, the chance to view names and faces, making some connections there makes this task a little more managable. Even if you don’t remember everyone’s name and face together, if you are one of a few reaching out before, it’s likely that you will be remembered
Developing a Context What I found most exciting about reaching out before, was that many of my co-participants wanted to meet me face-to-face because we had already connected online. For two weeks leading up to the event. people reviewed my status updates on both Facebook and LinkedIn and I had done the same. When we did meet at the Orientation event, I felt as though I had a context for my co-participants and vice versa. Additionally — and this is no surprise — many felt that I gave them a little “kick in the social media pants.” This was fruitful because we immediately had another topic of conversation at hand.
Personal Branding Reaching out before can provide an additional opportunity to engage in personal (and professional) branding as an expert in your field. For someone in the field of social media that means using the channels to do the work so that what you do is illustrated by your actions and behaviors. I like this feature because it means you can do less telling and more showing.
So, if you’re not convinced that reaching out before can reap benefits after — try it before your next job interview, business meeting, or panel presentation. Study the profiles and see if you feel a little better equipped to be your best self in an unfamiliar setting. Keep in mind, what most people find nerve-wracking about these settings is not knowing who you’re talking to or what to discuss. Consider this as a way to have a leg up in the situation. Let me know if you Reach Out Before and what ensues from there: firstname.lastname@example.org