So you made the decision to partake in that loved, and equally hated, activity: networking. You sign up to an event. You couldn’t find anyone else to come with you, so you go solo. You get a little tag with your name on it (misspelt). You get a drink (water). You look at the room (sparse). You twiddle your thumbs. And you wait.
It kind of sucks, right?
But networking is important. Like it or not, it’s vital for your career and your business. It’s word-of-mouth referrals and formal recommendations. It could be your next job, your next hire, and your next sale.
So why do we hate networking and why are we so terrible at it?
There are a lot of excuses for both questions, but these are three we often hear back: networking is boring, obnoxious, and it hardly works. As far as reasons go, they’re pretty clear-cut. But networking remains a necessary skill. How do we make networking less boring? Less obnoxious? More effective?
Ultimately, how do we make networking work for us?
Have a reason to be working the room
“To meet new people” is not a good enough reason to attend a networking event. To put it simply, you’re going to waste your energy. This pursuit is tedious and time-consuming and you’ll realize it soon enough.
Be prepared. Know exactly why you’re there and who or what for. Are you looking for a potential employer or investor? Future clients or partners? Are you, quite simply, on the hunt for peers?
Come with your A game. While others are asking the same tired questions, shake up the small talk. Turn it into smart conversation and sow the seeds for a deep connection.
Understand not everybody is going to be your cup of tea and that’s perfectly all right
You’re right. Networking can feel fake. It can be hard to shake off that slight sleaziness. Some will embrace this; others will not.
To avoid falling into this trap, look at your networking mission to find interesting people, instead of thinking how you can appear interesting. (Of course, who you are and what you do is going to come up – for that, be more self-assured than self-centred.)
You’re not obligated to continue investing time and energy into the person who clearly sees you only as a LinkedIn connection either. If you’re not feeling the match, it’s okay to move on. The aim of networking is to find and build on mutually beneficial relationships – preferably with people whose company you enjoy.
Move the match beyond the initial meeting
Networking is one of those things where you get out what you put in. It’s a long game. When you start framing networking less as a “scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” endeavour, and more about building relationships with savvy, like-minded people, you’ll start to see what the whole fuss is about.
If you want to keep in touch with somebody. Keep in touch with them. Make sure to get their contact information. Take the initiative and send them a follow-up message. Preferably, you want to get a one-on-one with them in-person so you can better establish a rapport.
Don’t worry too much about how you follow-up. It’s just important that you do. You don’t want to wait too long to make a move – you run the risk of them forgetting who you are.
Essentially, when your reasons for attending an event are more specific than to simply “meet new people” you’ll be more focused and attentive. Consider networking events as jumping points to one-on-one meetings in the future. Focus on the quality and depth of these connections. These will form the basis of, hopefully, fruitful relationships.
Which leads us to the next post in this series: How to keep in touch with your network.
Stay tuned for updates!
If you want to learn how to be a better networker, sign up to this free and fun five-part e-mail course by serial entrepreneur and online media exec, Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten.