Underlying Diane Darling’s instructions on effective networking: Find out how you can help
By David Hugh Smith
This is the final installment in a four-part series about Diane Darling. Diane is the founder and president of Effective Networking, Inc., a Boston-based company. In previous articles about her networking wisdom, we looked at why networking is so important to careers and how to network during group professional events. In the summer issue of the Post we looked at effective ways to meet people.
Diane Darling teaches by example. Attend one of her instructional sessions on networking and you are treated to time spent with someone who exudes the qualities of excellence most needed to make worthwhile career connections.
Ms. Darling isn’t slick or pushy. Instead, she is caring and gracious, which are professional qualities that enable her – and others who network effectively – to build solid relationships based not on self-interest but on a desire to help others.
Her most major book—“The Networking Survival Guide: Practical Advice to Help You Gain Confidence, Approach People, and Get the Success You Want”—asserts that part of what makes professionals nervous about networking is the belief they need to get something. Take the pressure off—and try, instead, to give something.
In her shorter book: “Networking for Career Success” Diane says: “Shy people can network very well. You just have to be genuine and sincerely interested in others.”
To be sure, Diane provides an abundance of methods and techniques for meeting people. But underlying her advice is the concept that being ready to help others doesn’t just satisfy the soul; it redounds by providing connections who, in turn, want to help you.
“Ethics” also feature prominently in Diane’s advice for networkers. In “Survival Guide” Diane provides a chapter with this one-word title. In it she says: “Your reputation is your most valuable life asset, both professionally and personally. Take pride in what you do, give proper credit to those who have been a part of your success, and always be honest.”
In the chapter summery she says: “Be sure your behavior reflects your values (and those of the people who love you).”
Many people—perhaps most—think of networking largely as making connections at meetings. Of shaking hands, exchanging business cards, placing a follow-up call. They think of it as building connections you can “work” to contact other people using the phone, email, other methods—and in so doing you’ll meet someone who may offer you a job or a client.
But networking is much more, as attendees to her talks and readers of her books can attest. For example, Diane suggests what might be called crowd-sourcing activities. Professionals with something valuable to say can take advantage of writing and speaking opportunities—another way to give!—to leverage their visibility.
In “Survival Guide” she says: “You get instant credibility…when a newspaper or magazine publishes your article. When you speak at a professional association, you get visibility and recognition from your peers…”
She adds: “Publications always want high-quality content written…” Meanwhile, “Speaking is an effective and efficient way to share your knowledge and meet many people.”
Diane quotes Norman Vincent Peale: “The act of self-giving is a personal power-releasing factor.” As such, Diane recommends volunteering if you have the time.
Toward the end of “Survival Guide” Diane asks the question: “What if I don’t feel like networking?” And that IS the core question.
This writer himself has avoided many networking opportunities out of concern for discomfort that could result from taking part in an event involving interaction with people he doesn’t know. And when he manages to get to events, instead of stepping in and joining in on a conversation with people he wants to get to know he’s instead remained chatting with people he’s known for years – or headed off in search of a tasty event hors d’oeuvres.
“First of all,” Diane says, “remind yourself what networking really is. It is not transactional; it is relational. If you are in need of a client, an employee, a job, or a charity donation, then be realistic – you are not really networking.”
There are reasons not to go to a networking event. Perhaps it doesn’t work with your schedule. But don’t not go because you fear talking to people or that you won’t fit in, Diane says. These personally created roadblocks can be knocked down. Diane asserts that networking becomes easier the more you do it.
She recommends a number of ways to make a networking events easier. These include focusing your thinking on what you can do for others. And finding a “networking buddy” to go along with you. And psyching yourself up by remembering positive networking experiences.
In her summary to “Survival Guide,” Diane recalls learning how to drive a stick shift. “Networking is similar. We need to be patient with ourselves (because we didn’t master the clutch immediately either).” She encouragingly says: “In due time, the percentage of successes (in networking, just as with learning a stick shift, begins) to far outpace the stalls.”
David Hugh Smith is president of Right Writers, a Brookline, Mass., communications company. He’s also editor of PDC publications. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.