Please enjoy this article that was featured in Texas Women In Business’ monthly member publication.

You walk into the event praying you will see someone you know. Inside the door you are met by a group of strangers. You look around to see if anyone notices the obvious jackhammer that is pounding in your chest. “Breathe”, you tell yourself. “Just breathe”. People smile at you and say hello. However, your mind-chatter is screaming so loudly you scarcely notice. Am I good enough? Am I smart enough? Am I pretty enough? You know connecting is a critical component to having a successful business. How do some people make it look so easy?

Knowing protocols can reduce or even eliminate the fear of networking and connecting with other people. When we are little, we are taught of “stranger danger” and told “do not talk to strangers”. Those messages run deep and can show up when we least expect it.

What if you knew a way to silence the critics in your head and create a pathway to connect and actually have a good time? I can show you how.

Knowledge really is power. How did I go from that skinny little kid who was ashamed to walk across a room to being confident to speak in front of 10,000 people? Knowledge, that’s how. I simply learned some things and you can too! Protocols are simply the rules that pertain to a given situation. How can we win a game if we don’t know the rules? If I try to play basketball using football rules, I will most likely get benched. Knowing protocols can keep you from getting “benched” at your next networking event. Protocols are simple. I am not saying following them is easy … it takes courage, determination, and it takes action … but I am saying the rules are simple. Some even call it common sense. The problem with common sense is that common sense is not so common!

We will get to the protocols for entering into a group in seven simple steps. However, it is important to know a few things first. Where do you begin? How do you choose a group to break into? What do you need to know prior to breaking into a group?

  • Always look for groups of three or more – breaking into a group of 2 can be too personal. You may be interrupting a private conversation. I have heard complaints that someone felt they were being ignored, or felt that someone was “freezing them out” when actually; they were the one with the rude behavior interrupting a conversation.
  • Personal responsibility is a huge part of learning to network effectively. You have control over how you present yourself and the kind of impression you make. If you are not aware of protocols, you may be setting yourself up for failure. Knowing networking protocols will create a successful experience every time. Get some knowledge. Educate yourself. Stop blaming others for not accepting you or reaching out to you. Protocol is this: It is your duty to introduce yourself. Take the initiative. Learn what to do and then practice it. You will become a pro in no time!
  • Even if a group has 3 or more people in it, evaluate the conversation to see if it is highly engaged. You want to find a group that is not engaged in deep conversation. If you see the group is highly engaged, move to another group that has a lighter atmosphere.
  • Watch for the single people. Check around to see if someone is by themselves. Take the initiative and introduce yourself. Make the other person feel welcome. This takes the pressure off of you and your performance. In the civility world we say it like this: Be others oriented. Being self-conscious is exactly that … being conscious of your “self”. Get your mind off of yourself and onto others. That is when the magic happens!

 7 Steps to Break Into a Group While Networking

  1. Adjust your posture – Adjusting your posture not only makes you look confident, regardless of how you may feel, it also creates a shift in your state of mind. This is a powerful tool when networking. To adjust your posture, simply bring your shoulders up, back, down, and then tuck in your tummy. Feel a golden thread from the crown of your head to heaven. See yourself standing tall. Walk in the power that is rightfully yours. If you don’t walk in your power, who will?
  2. Put on a smile – A smile is like honey. It draws people to you. A smile also changes your state of mind. When you smile you release endorphins that make you feel better. Never underestimate the power of a smile. It can make people choose you over another, just because they feel a welcoming presence inviting them to connect with you.
  3. Stand 3 feet away – Your presence does not end where your body ends. It actually extends beyond your body … about 3 feet. This is why you can “feel” someone’s presence without actually touching them. This is important to know when networking. After you have adjusted your posture and put on a smile, stand about 3 feet away from the group you desire to enter. Just stand there and smile. This step is most likely the greatest challenge. Standing outside of a group for 10 seconds can feel like 20 minutes … but you can do it. Stand there anyway. It is protocol. You stand there until the next step happens …
  4. Make eye contact – When someone in the group makes eye contact with you this is your cue. When eye contact occurs, it will break the energy of the group. Regardless of where the person is within the group who made eye contact with you, smile and acknowledge them with a nod of you head or a hello. Do not reach your hand across the group to shake a hand when breaking into a group.
  5. Introduce yourself to the person on your right or left – It is protocol to introduce yourself to the person to the right or the left of you. Say Hello, your name and company name (if applicable).
  6. Acknowledge everyone in the group – Be sure you do not leave anyone out who is in the group. Give a smile, nod of your head, a hello or handshake to everyone in the group. You do not want to start a conversation with one person and not acknowledge everyone in the group.
  7. Add to the conversation as appropriate – Join in the conversation. Do not be shy. Act as if you belong. This is protocol. Maintain steps 1-4 and you are sure to begin to connect in a respectful, healthy way.

Remember to greet your host or the organizers of the event upon entering, and thank them upon exiting. Someone put their time and energy into creating each event. This is a great place to begin to learn how to approach others. Approach with gratitude and you will be received every time.

This is the tip of the iceberg in the world of protocols and networking secrets. Knowing the rules will give you power and options. Once you know the rules you can choose to follow them or not … but at least you will consciously know you chose to veer from the path and were not just stumbling blindly trying to find your way through the networking jungle. Knowledge is power when it comes to connecting. It will give you the power to move forward with grace, connect with confidence and remove that jackhammer from your chest!