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By: Christina Ingrassia

Hi, my name is Christina, and I’m an EMERGE Lakeland stan. A member from 2008-2015 who rejoining last year (serving on various committees along with the Steering Committee for part of that time), I regularly promote EMERGE to recent college graduates and anyone I run into at a coffee shop who makes the mistake of telling me that they’ve recently moved here.

I stepped back from EMERGE when the combined forces of having a baby and commuting to Tampa dulled my motivation for wearing real pants after 5:00 p.m.; but five years later, my professional contributions are once again more centralized in Lakeland and my small person can now put on his own pants without my help. I’ve jumped back in to contribute to EMERGE for one final year before I age out and cheer you all onward.

What EMERGE taught me about networking One of the things I love about EMERGE is that you really benefit from it in direct proportion to what you contribute. In 2008, I moved back to Lakeland after living elsewhere since high school. I was 27, and accustomed to working in a very autonomous environment in a small organization. A reluctant extrovert, I find conversation easy, but felt that networking carried a seedy reputation. I wore it like a plaid polyester suit--it kept me from appearing naked in civilized society, but man, did it itch. The people I met through EMERGE taught me how to network in a way that felt authentic, life-affirming, and productive. I now count so many of them as not only close friends, but also colleagues from whom I will accept a phone call in real time and drop my afternoon plans to help.

The importance of building a network…according to Lakeland leaders:

Now I understand that networking is simply building relationships, and it’s a skill that we can all hone to become progressively better in our careers, as well as our personal lives. In that vein, I decided to test whether my EMERGE alumni cohorts would answer my phone call and reached out to them for their best advice on building a killer network. You’ll no doubt recognize the names below as stalwart leaders in our Lakeland community, people who are known for investing in our community. They’ve built networks that extend around the globe and advanced their careers, businesses, and investments. Here’s what they had to say:

Tips on networking events

  • Bring business cards – keep yours in one pocket and the people you meet in the other and make sure the following day you follow up with those people you got cards from who you would like to make a more formal connection with.

  • When going to an event, avoid standing where people come into the event. Rather, stand near where people are exiting, getting a drink or, even better, at a high-top table. I’ve found that when people (myself included) first come into an event, the last thing they want to do is get immediately pounced on. I tend to want to get a drink and settle into the environment. Once I have the drink in hand, I’m ready to mingle. Doesn’t work the same with a buffet table as I usually have a plate full of food and no hands to shake or hand out cards.

  • The food line is a great place to make connections. You are forced to be with one another, but it’s not awkward; and if you don’t see the conversation going very far, you can simply focus on getting the food and finding your seat rather than continuing the conversation.

  • When following up, don’t just say generically you want to “touch base” or “see how you can help one another” – develop a specific reason why a connection with you would be beneficial to that person. You will be remembered.

“Be deliberate in your intentions when networking. Always make things “silly simple” when trying to gain business!”
Stephanie Colon, Vice President/Business Development Officer, Prime Meridian Bank; Steering Committee Chair, 2015

Tips on personal branding

(Contributed by James Sidou, Senior Director, Legal Services, Saddle Creek, Steering Committee Chair, 2016 )

  • Ask how you can help. When you help someone else, you are no longer making it about yourself, but about the other person.

  • When you say you are going to do something, do it. If you half-ass a project or do not give proper time to something you committed to, then you will have to work so much harder to regain what you have lost.

  • Keep LinkedIn professional and up to date. It is not Facebook or Instagram and not for hooking up or making unprofessional comments. It is your billboard to the professional world and if you would not want something on that billboard then you should not have it on LinkedIn (or any social media for that matter).

“Align yourself with like-minded individuals that understand the greater good. Anyone serving to serve themselves isn’t going to help you meet the right people or introduce you to people that fit your criteria.”
Derek Oxford , Financial Planner, CFP, AEP, CPS Investment Advisors; Steering Committee Chair, 2017

Keep it simple

As you can see, whether it’s by simplifying someone’s life, building up their business profile within your network, or connecting them to a helpful resource, networking is as easy as adding value to the people around you. Pick one of the tips above and practice it with three people at your next networking event for a better networking experience.

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