By Sarah Salbu
Throughout my three years in Boston I’ve put a concerted effort into exploring my romantic options a.k.a dating. I’ve learned a lot about Boston, myself and the best ways to more effectively interact with people I’ve just met.
I’ve realized that I’m really good at quickly connecting with people. This hasn’t always been the case and I have concluded that being an active dater has improved my ability to connect with others. How’s that for seeing a silver lining?
Before diving into the business lessons, I must say that I really enjoy dating. I’ve had some fun adventures and met many great people. I’ll save a summary of my fun dating moments for another blog post, but for now I want to share the lessons learned as an active dater that have accelerated my ability to make meaningful professional relationships and build a strong network.
Get out there! If someone invites you to something, go! If you hear of something that even remotely sparks your interest, go! Unless you have to wade through anaconda ridden waters, go! I actively look for opportunities to meet new people, go to new spots, and learn new things. With great sources like Twitter, meetup.com and dating sites, options abound for finding events to attend and organizations to join.
While it can be daunting to go to a new professional event, especially if you’re by yourself, realize that it creates such a tremendous opportunity to meet interesting people. I have created a new life motto out of this: You never know who you are going to meet at the cheese platter.
Going on dates has made me more comfortable in attending events solo. Looking back on my time in Boston, I never would have guessed that I would be as immersed in the city as I am today. This is because I started going to events and staying in touch with the organizations I’m interested in. As a result, I average two to three invites to professional events every week. Good thing I like cheese.
Now you’re at an event – what do you do?
Be inclusive. When I’m at a social or professional event, being conscious of including others is powerful. Imagine for a moment that you were to stick your arms out like an air hug. (Don’t actually do this at an event because then no one will talk to you). However, this concept should be on your mind as you enter conversations with new people.
Stand in a way that makes everyone feel included, which might mean you have to turn your body as a signal to invite more people to join you. Once someone is physically invited into a conversation, look for ways to connect to everyone there. “Oh you are in marketing, well this person is in sales,” or “you have a house on the Cape, this person loves sailing” and see where it goes. Or ask questions that everyone can answer, which leads me to my next point.
Focus on the present. I like to ask questions that stay in the present. For example, the reason why I’m writing this post is because I met Chad at a Master Slam event hosted by our mutual friend Devin Bramhall. During a break we struck up a conversation and discussed the evening’s debate. It made the connection real and organic, not the repeated routine – “What do you do for work?” “Where are you from?” “Where did you go to school?” Yada yada.
When you’re focused on the present this will help you connect with the people around you.
Avoid burying yourself in your phone. I’ve spent enough time waiting for dates by myself at a bar or restaurant that I am now more comfortable embracing feeling alone for a moment when in a public place. While it can be difficult to pick your head up and look around because the idea of being alone is so pronounced, I encourage you to embrace this moment. Take the time to notice people or things in your surroundings you may have missed, then go say hello to someone. They won’t bite, I promise.
Have fun. Now that you have struck up a conversation, no one wants to be with a Debbie Downer. Yes, the weather sucked in Boston for what feels like 10 years. Stop complaining! You chose to live here. Bring up things that are more lighthearted and fun. If you have to watch Conan O’Brien or Jimmy Fallon videos for inspiration so be it (check my Twitter feed for plenty of recommendations). Make a conscious effort to be a positive asset to the conversation – even if you are just referencing late night comedy (I might be biased, but that would be an awesome conversation).
Define your personal brand. What three words would you use to describe yourself? I learned this lesson when I created an online dating profile. It may have started because I was lazy or wanted to be alluring (up for debate), but I only included three words in the summary section of my profile. Apparently that’s effective in catching the attention of a possible suitor. (I know, that’s not what I’m here to tell you, but go ahead and use that nugget of dating profile wisdom if you would like).
When it comes to networking, reflecting on and defining your personal brand will help you be more self-aware and make for more meaningful conversations. Confidently owning your personal brand will make it easier for you to connect and share value with others. For me, my three word description is: Compassionate, Optimistic and Fun.
We are all seeking meaningful connections. As with dating, there are ups and downs in professional growth and networking. Getting out there, putting kindness at the forefront of your interactions, making an effort to include others, and being a positive addition to a conversation will leave you pleasantly surprised by the value that comes back to you in return.
I’m still on my path of professional and personal pursuits and I wish you all the best in yours!
Lastly, I would be remiss not to give you some pointers on where to find networking events in Boston. I hope to see you at one of these!