This week's guest post comes from Christine Gertz, Library and Information Specialist at CAPS.
In each paper edition of Bloomberg Businessweek, the final section, Etc., is devoted to curiosities of business - ideas that appeal to a niche or a fad that might bloom into a trend. In the June 10, 2013 edition, Christine Hauer's Job: Networking for You, by Your Side focuses on a young woman in New York who runs a PR firm and also hires herself out as a ‘wingman’ for networking events.
According to Wikipedia a wingman “is a role that a person may take when a friend needs support with approaching potential partners.” Hauer’s job is not to be confused with unsavoury pickups or CSI: Miami criminality. For $250, Hauer will prep her clients for an event with tips on how to handle conversations, smile winningly and escape from conversations when the topic has expired. She will then accompany them to an event, assist with introductions, help them meet the people they want to cultivate as connections, bolster their courage and free them from uncomfortable interactions politely. After the event, she will help clients follow up with the people they met so they can build meaningful business connections. Hauer encourages her clients to attend at least two business events a month. Both a previous client and the article’s author who used Hauer’s services attest that Hauer taught them how to network effectively.
I’m not suggesting that gregarious and extroverted people found their own business as networking wingmen, but that people who are generally outgoing may want to pay it forward to their less outgoing friends. In other words, I want to encourage the savvy networkers to help their more reserved friends, for free, by accompanying them to networking events as a wingman.
I could suggest that there is a personal gain to be had by attending networking events with your friends, even if they are not in the same industry. For example, a phys ed student attends a networking event with his reserved cousin who is in forestry. During the course of the event, the phys ed student breaks the ice with several potential employers for his quieter cousin, while expanding his own personal training business. That could happen--it is a dramatization of the weak ties theory, which appears to explain the success of networking outside of your immediate family and friends. (If you are interested in this theory and how it relates to work, you can read Mark Granovetter’s essay on the Strength of Weak Ties, or the popular examination provided in Six Degree of Lois Weisberg by Malcolm Gladwell.) It is also a dramatization of ‘planned happenstance’ (see Luck is no accident: Making the most of happenstance in your life and career by J.D. Krumboltz and A.S. Levin).
However, I’m suggesting you do it because you are generous and love your friends. If you are a gregarious extrovert, you would never turn down a party. The best networking events have a convivial atmosphere--after all, the majority of the attendees are people just like your friend who want their professional knowledge validated by others and to share a meal while doing it. You can attend so your friend will meet these regular, interesting people, while making business connections and feeling secure that you have their back.
Since you are doing it out of generosity, the pressure is off of you to sell yourself, while making the best effort on the part of your friend. Keep in mind that everything you do will reflect on your friend’s judgment, since they thought it was a good idea to bring you along, trusting you not to wreck the night for everyone else and ruin their business reputation.
As a networking wingman, you should follow these rules:
· Find out what the event is about. If the event is outside of your industry, you might want to spend some time chatting with your friend, looking at the organizer’s website and maybe doing some light Wikipedia research. This should take about an hour and can be managed over lunch when you ask your friend who they want to meet. This is part of your basic preparation. You will be able to get away with, This isn’t my area… but you don’t want to seem like you could care less, thus rudely insulting their enthusiasm for their industry. If you don’t prepare at all, your ignorance may reflect badly on your friend.
· Make a good impression. This seems obvious, but what it means is that you will dress as if you were trying make connections for yourself. No excessive alcohol consumption or overeating--and pulling your friend back if they appear to be drinking or eating too much. Be gracious, courteous and friendly. Just because these people are outside of your industry doesn’t mean they don’t know someone in your industry, so you want to make a good impression. Your behaviour will also reflect on your friend’s judgment.
· Come up with a valid reason to attend. The reasons, my friend is socially awkward or I had nothing better to do are dismissive of your friend and the event. Other reasons, such as I appreciate the chance to improve my knowledge of X or we use a similar method of research in my field and I am interested in its applications are better. You can spend a brief time talking about how this event may relate to your areas of interest, but try to keep the focus on the ‘lead plane’ - your friend - since you are there as support not the star.
· Break the ice, but know when to stop talking. You have attended the event to help your friend, but your friend has to be prepared to carry the conversation. If they can’t explain what they do or are interested in, they can practice explaining this to you. You can also practice conversational hand offs, such as I’ll let her explain since this is her area or This sounds like something my friend was talking about on the ride over, so I think he should tell you about it. Let your friend get a word in edgewise after you have warmed up the contact.
· You can talk to your friend anytime, but now is not that time. Your friend may cling to you as the only familiar face in the room. You can chat about player trades or that movie you just saw some other time. You are here for another purpose, so keep your friend on task. Don’t let them weasel out of meeting people just because they’re nervous.
· Offer an escape route. You are going to have to leave your friend alone to talk to people, as many people as possible. If it looks like they are stuck, you may have to motivate the conversation. Or you may have to rescue your friend and use Hauer’s strategy of suggesting that you need to get something to drink or some air and politely remove your friend from the conversation by asking them to accompany you.
You want your behaviour to enhance your friend’s reputation and to gather as many business contacts as possible. Helping them find people to talk to, enter conversations, gather contact information and manage conversations to a polite close makes you the perfect networking wingman…or woman!