Last weekThe NEWSwas in Chicago in full force for the AHR Expo. Those days at the show can be pretty long and draining, and I’m not going to lie — yourNEWSeditors were worn out by the end of it.

At the expo or any event, the handshakes and passing out of business cards can start to feel very routine. But there are rewards for the effort we put into it.

The Power of Networking

It made me think back to a seminar I attended last year on the power of networking. The speaker told an anecdote from his own life about how one night on a business trip, after a particularly long, delayed flight, he was tempted to go straight up to his hotel room, order room service, and hit the hay. But instead, he forced himself to take a seat at the hotel bar, order dinner, and strike up a conversation with a woman sitting next to him. It turned out she had some connections in the TV industry, and through a series of events, she ended up helping him get on NBC’s “Today” show, which was incredibly beneficial for his consulting business.

While listening to that speaker, I started to turn a little red in the back of the room. It was as though he was speaking directly to me. The night before I had, in fact, skipped a networking event, ordered room service, and gone to bed.

Of course, the snarky voice in my head wanted to retort that it was fine for me to order room service because I have no desire to go on the “Today” show. But that’s not the point. The point is that putting yourself out there and trying to network can yield amazing results. While I may have had an epic fail at that event, I’ve tried to improve my networking skills, and I believe that if I can get better, anyone can.

Outside the Comfort Zone

Although I wish I’d been born with the networking gene, it just doesn’t come naturally to me. Some people have that gift, but others of us have to work at it. Because, of course, the hard thing about networking and meeting people is that it can be uncomfortable and, at times, a little awkward.

If you’re like me, fighting that desire to stay in your comfort zone (AKA hotel room) isn’t all that easy. Actually, it’s easier not to force that initial introduction. Then you don’t have to try to remember the new contact’s name or come up with a conversation topic. But then you also don’t get the chance to learn anything from that new contact.

So here are some things I’ve learned that may help you get over those hurdles. First, it’s not worth feeling awkward. Lots of other people at the cocktail hour are probably feeling awkward, too. So you have to put that worry to the side and just walk up and introduce yourself to someone.

Then introduce yourself to everyone else standing around in that person’s group. That way you can break in, and then keep making more contacts as you shake hands around the circle.

I’ve found it’s always a good conversation starter to ask people where they’re from. Most people like to talk about their hometowns, and then, of course, you can go from there to asking about the work they do. That’s when you can really start to make some interesting business connections.

There are some other tips I’ve picked up along the way (such as, maintain a superficial knowledge of sports and pretend you care a little even if you don’t), but they’re more suited for women networking in male-dominated industries, so shoot me an email if you fall into that category and we can correspond further.

Enjoying the Rewards

When I get through the initial introductions and handshakes, I’m always happy with what I gain from meeting with people face-to-face. I learn and hear things I’d never learn or hear in an email, and I make stronger connections and foster better relationships with great folks in the industry.

So if you’ve ever wanted to disappear into your hotel room, I hope you’ll force yourself to get out to the next meet-and-greet. You might be surprised at how quickly the rewards of networking outweigh the initial awkwardness.

Publication date: 01/30/2012