Are You an Ostrich or a Peacock?

Are you an ostrich or a peacock? To succeed in business you need to get up, get out, and show yourself at your best: build relationships, make new contacts, add to your knowledge base, and add value to your organization.

Is your mailbox overflowing with invitations to business luncheons, work-related receptions, professional talks?

If you tend to be more like an ostrich, several thoughts will probably go through your head: 1) I’m too busy, 2) I don’t want to get out, meet new people, and have to make small talk, and 3) what’s the point?

So let’s address each of these in reverse order.

1. Getting out and engaging with people is good for business. Here are just a few benefits:

  •   Broaden your client base
  •   Obtain business leads
  •   Change or influence perceptions and outcomes
  •   Create new opportunities
  •   Find new vendors and suppliers
  •   Make connections by facilitating introductions between stakeholders
  •   Get a seat at the table

2. Plan, prepare, and practice. For many people, meeting someone new and making conversation isn’t so easy; it takes us out of our comfort zone. However, there are tools you can use to make it easier–so plan, prepare, and practice.

  •   Plan: review invitations regularly, decide which events will help meet company objectives, like gaining information or knowledge needed for a project, making key contacts, seeking help… If you are doing business globally or are considering expanding, look for events hosted by the U.S. Department of Commerce, bilateral chambers of commerce, and cultural organizations with a focus on the country or region you are interested in. Make those events a priority and put them on your schedule.
  •   Prepare: read some country background information. Both the CIA World Factbook and the BBC have basic country profiles. Skim the headlines and read articles related to that country or region, and review the country’s cultural protocol. Then review the event’s agenda or program. If you don’t know the speaker, do a search on Google for the person’s bio. Most events allow half an hour or so for registration, before the program starts. This is a good time to meet people, so arrive early. At the check-in table, perhaps you can quickly scan the name badges to see who’s attending. Work the room, spread your feathers, and walk around the pre-event function space. Look for anyone you know and say hello, being sure to reintroduce yourself to a casual acquaintance. Or, better yet, introduce yourself to someone new. That’s easier to do before the majority of the guests arrive and people start forming small groups. If there’s open seating, find a table near the stage so you can see and hear better. This will also force you to walk through the room, where you might see people you know and have a chance to speak briefly, or you might run into someone you’ve wanted to meet. Have plenty of business cards with you. Go up to the people at the table and ask if you can join them. If the seat is open, go around the table and briefly introduce yourself to the people already there before you sit.
  •   Practice: do a SWOT analysis of your networking and relationship skills. Determine what you’re good at: putting people together? helping others? Choose events where you can let those skills shine and remember to use then. What are your weaknesses: approaching people? making introductions? making small talk? table manners? knowing what to wear? following up on leads after an event? Whatever it is, work on it, and practice. If it’s introducing yourself, write down your “elevator speech,” a 30 second introduction, and try it on friends and family. If it’s approaching people, choose a few tactics like complimenting someone, asking whether the person is a member of the organization, or what her interest is in that program, etc. Look for other opportunities to practice, too, even away from work: church, mosque, synagogue, the gym, the grocery store, your children’s school function…

3. Make the time. For most of us “I’m too busy” is simply an excuse. Unless you’re the President of the United States, you need to find time to meet new people, connect with those you already know, and yes, network. Remember that in many cultures, getting to know you is the first step to doing business. Actually, even the President needs to build relationships, which is why presidents traditionally meet with leaders of other governments, travel abroad, and host state dinners. Abroad or at home, you must make the time. President Obama was advised to “Work on His Capitol Hill Ties,” so his staff made time. It has to be part of your agenda.

Last week, I attended two luncheons, a reception, and a dinner. Here are some of the benefits I gained or was able to facilitate for others:

  •   I attended one event with a friend, so I got the added bonus of being introduced to people she knew. This event had assigned seating, and the president and CEO of a small company that does business in India was at our table. He was interested in getting more involved with the hosting organization. As a member of the hosting organization’s advisory board, I talked to him about membership and participating in an upcoming women’s leadership program that he thought would be beneficial for his company. I sent his information to the executive director, so she and her team could follow up regarding membership and sponsorship opportunities, and I sent him a note stating that I had enjoyed meeting him and that someone from the organization would be contacting him shortly.
  •   At another event, I ran into a friend who used to work for the hosting organization. She introduced me to the Korean consul. At this time I’m not working on a project in Korea, but it’s good to have the contact, should I need it. At the same event, the organization’s new director of education and business policy sat next to me, so we discussed her background and programming ideas, and how I had collaborated with the organization in the past.
  •   At another lunch, I ran into a longstanding acquaintance who had moved back to the city for a career opportunity. She had previously used my services to do a training for her team. She mentioned that she had a small project for me. I, of course, followed up with her and hope to provide my services again.

Ostrich or peacock? In my experience, most people tend to be more like one than the other. Ostriches need encouragement to show themselves and interact, especially during times of stress. Peacocks have to overcome the perception that they are all flash and no substance. The book, Sorry! The English and their Manners, references a book on etiquette published in 1528, which states that “One shouldn’t walk with one’s hand on one’s hip, for fear of looking like a peacock.” I would argue that there is a time and a place for emulating the proud peacock.

Both the ostrich and peacock have merit, so to maximize success, it’s best to develop the skills of both. There are times when you have to keep your head down and focus on a project. Then there are times when it’s important to get up, get out, and build the relationships you need to succeed. For many, the ostrich is a more natural fit. But when a peacock is required, we can all put our best feathers forward when we remember to plan, prepare, and practice.

Consider whether this is the time to take your head out of the sand and preen. Find your inner peacock.

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