'Tis the Season to Be Networking! How Women Can Raise Their Profile and Get Ahead

Sure, it is often more comfortable to mingle with friends -- with the people we know. But that won't necessarily make you successful. Instead, when you walk into a room, be bold. Target the people who have influence.
12/01/2014 06:22 pm ET Updated Jan 31, 2015

A recent Fortune article, "Why Women Should Do Less and Network More," observed that "women are working harder than ever." In fact, the article states, "women spend more time doing and less time networking." This set of priorities can hurt women's careers. Networking is critical to forming the powerful relationships that move us up the corporate ladder. This holiday season, make your New Year's resolution early. Resolve to get out from behind your desk and start networking. You'll derive big career gains from small talk.

In fact, the festive season can provide you with abundant opportunities to raise your profile at company social events and build important relationships. You may even get to know someone who can become your mentor or sponsor.

In my book, Taking the Stage: How To Speak Up, Stand Out, and Succeed, I reveal the secrets of self-promotion. Drawing on those insights, here are 5 ways to network in business settings.

Tip #1: Show Up

The hardest part is making the commitment to go to that company cocktail party or after-work event when you feel needed in the office or at home. You might think of a million reasons why you can't put yourself out there. Maybe you're too busy, too tired or too uncomfortable. But don't succumb.

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer confessed that she has to force herself to attend informal gatherings and make herself stay a certain amount of time. But when she does, she enjoys it. So show up at every possible event you've been invited to. No excuses!

Tip #2: Ground Yourself in Confidence

Social events can make us nervous, because we often feel people will ignore us, sideline us, judge us or even reject us. When you are preparing for these events, there's so much more you can do than have your hair done or buy a new dress (although for some of us that's a good starting point.) Ground yourself in confidence.

Develop a mantra about yourself -- a sentence you repeat in your mind that gives you a sense of your own importance. It might be, "I have been invited here because my company recognizes me as a future leader." Or, "I am the head of the most successful software team in this firm." Or simply, "I know I'm great. I'm funny, smart, and successful." The point is to center yourself on whatever it is that makes you feel you have something to offer. I had a client who used to repeat to herself, "I am the head of Marketing for a global communications firm" whenever she went into a room. And guess what? She became the CEO.

Tip #3: Set a Goal

Walk into each event with a game plan, or at least a sense of what you might achieve.

These gatherings are zones of far-reaching possibilities, and that's why you want to be there. Say to yourself, "I'm going to get to know someone who would not normally be in my work world." And "I want that person to be a career influencer for me."

Sure, it is often more comfortable to mingle with friends -- with the people we know. But that won't necessarily make you successful. Instead, when you walk into a room, be bold. Target the people who have influence. Decide who it is that can be a source of power or influence in your own career. Find a way to strike up a conversation with that individual.

Tip #4: Know the Power of a Good Script

The best impromptu comments are well thought out. Plan your remarks or "script."

First, introduce yourself, even if you're wearing a name tag. Make strong eye contact, shake hands and share your full name and title with the other person.

Second, reach out with empathy. You can say something as simple as, "Are you enjoying yourself tonight?" Or "I heard your recent speech and really enjoyed it." Let the other person talk about whatever he or she wishes to. As you listen, think about what you may want from that individual. If it's a job, you might ask, "Tell me about your organization," or "I hear you are looking for a VP in Retail." If your goal is simply to build a relationship with this individual, you might listen for an "opening" that will allow you to talk about yourself. If you're lucky the other person may even ask, "So, tell me about yourself!"

Third, pitch yourself. Have an elevator conversation handy for such events. It should showcase who you are and what you do. For example: "I run Trillium's software lab. Last year, we developed and launched a new generation of software for HR systems. It's been an exceptionally successful product, adopted across North America and Europe. I am proud of what my entire team has accomplished."

Tip #5: Close with a Call to Action

Now, go for the close. This is called the Call to Action. You might ask for a meeting -- tell the other person you want to talk about a project, or you'd appreciate some advice. Or, you can be more elusive and say, "There's something I'd like to raise with you. Would you mind if I set up a meeting with you?"

The point is to set the stage for a continuing conversation -- one that potentially could lead to a relationship that enhances your career. Don't be shy about doing this. Anything that benefits you will also benefit that individual. Does all this sound crass and self-serving? Perhaps it does to many women. We tend to think we should be serving others. It seems unbecoming to think of serving our OWN ends. But if we don't, who will?

So take the lead. Think of what the word "conversation" means. It's from the same root as CONVERT. Convert people; bring them around (to you).

During this holiday season, say "Bah Humbug" to passivity. Take the stage and make the most of every social event. If you do, you just might find that the New Year brings you unimagined opportunities.