“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” – *obnoxious wink and/or friendly punch on the arm.
I am a terrible “networker,” at least in the traditional sense. Like most people, the idea has always struck me as too superficial to carry any real value. When I moved here a little over a year ago, I knew there was going to be some dues to pay: awkward pauses, baseline weather conversations and sweaty/aggressive handshakes. But I also knew there were people like me out there. People who wanted to build worthwhile relationships, learn, share and reciprocate other values which smack of an episode of Sesame Street. It all sounds very corny, right? Until you realize how many people are sorely missing the value and friendships networking creates from their business lives. So here is my guide, my ways I have made networking much more digestible and, dare I say, enjoyable.
Top 10 ways to make networking easier
1. Build relationships, not a rolodex
Remember that everyone you are talking to is a person first. They have ambitions, family, friends and hobbies. Look to build real, meaningful relationships. One of those is worth a hundred business cards.
This is probably the hardest part for those of us unnatural at networking. Just remember that at one point everyone was in the same position, felt how you feel and sat where you sit. Try not to view people as business contacts and just try to enjoy your time.
3. Avoid speed networking unless you’re in a pyramid scheme
There is nothing wrong with speed networking but it doesn’t really count as networking. It is speed marketing, push marketing at that. Value it accordingly. Also, avoid pyramid schemes. This has nothing to do with networking but when you try to sell me the rights to sell something, that’s a tough bridge to unburn.
4. Easy (questions), big fella
Ask easy questions to get things going. “What brings you here?” “May I join you?” “What did you think of the speech/talk/presentation?” For people who struggle, getting the conversation is the hardest part. Don’t be ashamed to have a few go to questions, assuming you ask them sincerely.
5. Ask real questions
If you want to leave an impression with someone, create a dialogue with someone. Obviously, this one needs to be handled with some discretion but the traditional approach is to avoid ‘politics, sex and religion’. I remember sitting down with a C-level exec from GE’s wind energy program and we tackled all three. At the time he was interested in buying our company, and even though we didn’t sell to GE, he was a huge help in the coming months. Assuming we like the people we get to know personally, it is in our nature to support them.
6. Be generous
Ignoring the altruistic side of this, the value of network doesn’t manifest in six months. It is a lifelong development and the value should only go up. If you are openly generous and supportive, you’ll attract people of a similar caliber. You may get burned once or twice but 10 years from now you’re going to have a 20 to 30 generous, intelligent people who you can rely on. There isn’t much you can’t get done with that.
7. Understand your strengths and the context of the environment
Are you a non-tech in a tech-environment or vice versa? Do a little bit of preparation. If you’re out of your element, let them know and ask questions. You’ll find ample opportunity to communicate your skill set and plant a seed for further communication. As much as I believe in the value of creating a relationship, there is and always will be an interview element to the majority on conversations you have. This is a necessary evil. Embrace it.
8. Take initiative
As a result of finding myself continually underwhelmed by networking events, I started my own. I handpicked a small group of people to get together once a month in a casual environment and we have real discussions. Everyone I reached echoed dissatisfaction with traditional networking and unanimously agreed to take part. We sit down once a month and provide resources, feedback and support to each other in a real-world context. It has been a largely successful process and the dialogue has generated a lot of value for the participants.
Without getting to hokey, building relationships is a big part of life outside of business. If you’re not good at it, you aren’t going to be sharing in as many adventures as you could. The good news is that no matter what your interest is, there are people that share it. Meetup.com is a great jumping off point for this. In to 9/11 conspiracies? There are 154 people in Vancouver who attend that Meetup. What about spiritual healing? 334 people. Maybe Queer Women of Faith or Cuddle Parties? There are groups for that too. My point is there are lots of people you don’t know with whom you have common ground. Get out there, mix it up and prove it isn’t so scary.
10. Follow up
People are distracted at networking events, there is lots on the go and plenty of commitments. If someone cuts you short, don’t take it personal. Just follow up and make the effort to foster the relationship.
“Networking, more like Friendworking” ….*High Five*…
Written by Daniel Eberhard, a Contributor at Vancity Buzz. Follow Daniel on Twitter at @danno_go or check out his personal website Urban Sherpa.
Image: Talent Egg