Do you associate networking with shameless self-promotion? Does the idea of networking make your stomach turn?
Networking holds a bad reputation as a forum for superficial small talk — and that’s because we’ve been following the wrong rules.
At its base, networking is defined as “interacting with other people to exchange information and develop contacts, typically to further one’s career.” Notice that this definition doesn’t tell you how to network. It doesn’t say you must network in a room full of strangers wearing nametags at a happy hour or breakfast.
It’s all about shifting your perspective. Think about it as a party full of future friends! It’s not about putting on a show, making a sale or nailing that one awesome lead. Networking is about making authentic human connections. Get personal. Get curious. Ask questions and listen.
Don’t plan on staying at an event for hours and hours or attending every event in a 50-mile radius. One or two per month is a great start, and a solid, productive hour of authentic interaction is better than several hours tossing around your business cards.
DO SOMETHING YOU ENJOY
Networking isn’t confined to events that have the word “networking” in their titles. The best way to meet new people is to do something you enjoy! Join a softball team or participate in a charity event.
OPPORTUNITIES ARE EVERYWHERE
The person standing behind you in line at the grocery store could be your next client. Don’t be afraid of starting conversations — you never know where they might lead! Wear your nametag; it’s a conversation starter at a game, at your child’s school, at the grocery store and anywhere.
MAKE IT A GAME
Give yourself a challenge, like “I’m going to meet and have meaningful conversations with four people today” or “I’m going to find three people standing on their own and introduce them to someone else.” Don’t discuss real estate unless the other person brings it up — and give them a reason to!
FIND A BUDDY
Walking into a room full of strangers is hard, especially when you are alone. Taking a friend with you makes it much easier. But don’t stick like glue to your friend, either!
BE TRUE TO YOUR STRENGTHS
Ignore networking advice that demands you behave in ways that drain you. Turn your natural abilities into networking strengths. If you are better at listening than talking, do it. If you are better one-on-one, arrange it.
REALIZE LESS IS MORE
Go to fewer events and be more focused. Don’t wear yourself out. Pick a few you love, and work them!
PLAN YOUR FIRST IMPRESSION
Show up every time with the best version of you — you never know who you’ll meet. Cognitive scientists say it can take up to 200 times the amount of information to undo a first impression than it takes to make one.
GET IN LINE
If you find yourself uncomfortable, find a line! There are only two people to talk to now — one in front and one behind.
If you aren’t following up, you aren’t networking. Write personalized follow-ups within the next two days.
What are the ways you would feel comfortable networking? Pick one, and create a plan for the week!