Picture the last time you walked into a networking event. Perhaps you were a bit nervous and you gave yourself a list of tasks like – sit down, introduce yourself to at least two people at the table, then get busy sipping coffee, reading the event program and checking your phone.
Recently I attended a big family gathering with people I haven’t seen in a million years, and a few I have never met. I knew I was going to have to put my best schmoozing and networking skills to use, because even if I was surrounded by family I still wanted to make good impression. I could tell that my Grandmother was eager to brag about me, as all grandmothers do. What really surprised me, and what I have taken away as a masterful lesson in networking, was in the approach she took.
Social Proof is a Powerful Influencer
How many times have you met someone, only to hear them say “Oh I work for so and so, it’s such a busy job! I’m so busy doing brag brag brag”. Call it a humble brag, or whatever you want, it’s one of the few but obvious ways that someone can talk about themselves without sounding too self absorbed – because you asked!
At this gathering, instead of jumping up with “I’m so proud, did you know that she…” my smooth and sophisticated grandmother simply asked me, while in a small group “so how did your speech go?”
This question created a bit of mystery in the room, but I was excited to give her the details of my keynote address at a large fundraising event. Well, now the questions started and she had masterfully engaged a whole room of people through their own curiosity.
Engage the room with curiosity
This is the phenomenon of social proof. It’s the same psychological effect wherein we perceive a user on Twitter with a million followers as more trustworthy and reputable than a similar user with a thousand followers.
But when you’re at a networking event, even if you have a million Twitter followers, no one is likely to know that. And you don’t have to bring a room full of devotees as a personal entourage to feel confident.
Bring a Buddy
Social proof goes a long way in earning and cultivating that feeling of authority. You only need one other person in a group, or in a room, to be your ally.
You don’t need an entourage to feel confident – you only need one ally
Further to social proof is the multiple source effect. This effect occurs when people give more credence to ideas that are stated by multiple sources. We live in the “testimonial economy” now, where what a candidate says about themselves, including in their resume and cover letter, has less influence on us than ever before. We demand to see the testimony of former managers, colleagues, vendors, and customers, and that carries the most weight. This is why platforms such as LinkedIn are so successful with skill endorsements and testimonials.
In the “testimonial economy” you benefit from showcasing positive endorsements
This effect is so powerful, that you could pay someone to walk around the room introducing you, all the while telling people that they were paid to do this, and you would still benefit from social proof!
Be An Ally
One thing I’ve vowed to do when I go into networking events or big meetings, is to really “advertise” the skills of other people I work with. My thinking goes, if I champion them to people that don’t know us, I’ll at least look good by association, ie — look how smart and talented my coworkers are! You should think that about me too!
It’s (emotionally) easier than talking about myself, and often gets a little banter going like “oh, yes — did you know that she has….”
During that gathering I reconnected with people that I’m very glad to have in my life. Those are the same goals that most people are trying to achieve at any networking event. It really was a masterclass in networking and social proof from an unlikely source!