Today, I spoke to Liz Lynch, who contributes to the Personal Branding Blog every Thursday.  She is a networking strategist, speaker, author of Smart Networking: Attract a Following in Person and Online, and founder of the Center for Networking Excellence. Liz shares her thoughts on why you need to create your own personal brand to succeed, how she uses her social networks to create more opportunities and the ways building her personal brand has brought her success.

Chad: You mention on your website that your first networking event lasted about 4 minutes – how can people get better at networking in person and online?

There’s so much fear that can paralyze people—fear of looking stupid, fear of rejection— this holds people back from reaching out to make those connections that can really have an impact on their businesses, lives and careers.  There are a number of steps to overcoming this fear.

  1. Get out of your own head and put your focus on other people. The more genuine interest you can take in getting to know others, the more they’ll warm up to you and the more comfortable you’ll feel.
  2. Do whatever prep work you need to do in advance to feel at ease. Practice your elevator pitch so you can say it smoothly and without thinking, have some conversation starters in your back pocket.
  3. Jump in and do it. Even though I did run out of my first networking event after 5 minutes, I did go to other events after that and grew more comfortable as time went on.

Chad: What has creating your personal brand done for you and how people benefit from creating their own personal brand?

The power of a personal brand for me has meant that opportunities seek me out. People come to me already primed to work with me, willing to pay the rates I’m charging. There’s no chasing, there’s no convincing. That really saves me time and shortens my sales cycle.

Chad: What would your response be to those who think they are to busy to create their own personal brand?

Without a personal brand you are a commodity. A rising tide lifts all boats, but when times are more challenging, the few prospects that are still spending will go with the names they know. You may be doing well now without a personal brand, but you risk falling off the radar screen at some point if you don’t develop a strong presence and differentiate yourself in a meaningful way. And since you can’t build a personal brand overnight, it’s better to get started now.

Chad: You’re definitely a thought leader when it comes to using social networking – how can people use social networks like Linkedin, Twitter and Facebook to have more conversations?

You bring up a very critical point, it’s about having conversations. Connections happen through conversation, that’s a two-way exchange by the way, not one-way. You have to find ways to talk to people, not at them. Using Twitter to continually broadcast promotional information about yourself is not going to get you far. People will eventually tune you out, like we’re all skipping through the commercials on TV with TIVO and DVR.

The real key to using social networking is to be social — interact with people, don’t push anything. Congratulate them on a success, connect them to useful information, help them advance their own agendas. That’s how you gain awareness, attention, rapport, and get them interested in listening to what you have to say.

Chad: Is networking in person more of an art, science, or a mix of both? Is it a skill that can be learned?

It’s absolutely a skill that can be learned. I’m proof positive of that. And I think there’s a bit of both art and science. I do offer a lot of the science in Smart Networking in trying to break things down for readers into step-by-step formulas, like how to put your elevator pitch together, how to ask for help from your network to give you the best chance of success. That kind of preparation can raise your confidence level.

The art comes when you’re interacting with others. You have to be in the moment and fully present in the conversation to be able to flow with it naturally, where you’re able to actually hear what someone is saying because you’re not so consumed by what you’re going to say. I found that having the science down in advance and doing the prep work frees you up to enjoy more of the art in the interaction.

Chad: What are some of your favorite social networks and how do you use them to connect, create more opportunities and increase your business?

I like the troika of LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter because they do different things — together they give a wide range of ways to build and strengthen my network. LinkedIn is the first place I go to research the backgrounds of people I may be meeting so I can get a sense of who they are professionally and whether we have any common experiences. People don’t put up as much of that type of information on Facebook.

But I do like Facebook for the “stealth promotion” aspect of it, posting things to my profile page that give others a glimpse into what’s happening in my business. You also have a chance to post photos, videos and other things that can help you engage with your connections. And Twitter is my favorite for promoting other people. It’s so easy to reply, retweet, link to resources that others have posted, and help them spread their message.

Liz Lynch is the author of Smart Networking: Attract a Following In Person and Online (McGraw-Hill, 2009) and a sought-after speaker who brings a practical and insightful perspective to networking that has connected with a global audience. Her printed and audio products have sold on six continents, she’s been invited to speak at conferences and organizations around the world, and her writings have been translated into multiple languages. Liz is also founder of the Center for Networking Excellence, a company that develops products, programs and seminars to help entrepreneurs and professionals get clients, build their businesses, and accelerate their careers through networking.