When you say the word “networking” to most people, the first thing that may come to mind is a room buzzing with activity. Some people have name badges, some have drinks in their hands, and others may be handing out business cards. The common thread for everyone is a desire to “meet and connect.” While this thought may excite some, it turns others off, and I understand why. Most of us would prefer to meet business contacts the way we meet our friends: organically and naturally. But that’s the secret to networking: not seeing networking as an “activity” but rather as a mindset.
At a networking event we are often going to hear elevator pitches and that’s fine, we expect to hear them. But what we’re not expecting to do, right away, is simply connect people who are virtually strangers to our personal network, nor is there always a good or immediate match for a service someone provides. This can lead us to forced and tight interactions, rather than relaxed and genuine conversations.
In general I don’t advise going to uncurated networking events, like a generic Chamber of Commerce mixer, for example. It makes a lot more sense to go to networking events that are focused on a particular issue or that feature types of persons you are looking to meet. But whether you are at a curated or uncurated event, the mindset has to be the same: being genuinely interested in getting to know someone. As you go beyond their elevator pitch and ask them how they got into that field, why they live in a particular city, or a favorite vacation they recently took, you’re finding out more about them and whether they are someone you want to get to know better, and perhaps connect with your network. As you do this you will disarm people as they will realize you aren’t coming with a transactional, keeping-score attitude. You want to get to know them, and are trusting good things will happen as that knowledge deepens.
You don’t need to wait for networking to happen to you. You can create your own ways to network that are ever more focused and targeted.
Meetup – while there are plenty of groups on Meetup that are just noise or one hit wonders, there are some groups providing value through frequent meetings and excellent events. If you aren’t finding something you’re looking for – don’t rule out starting your own Meetup. Meetup may have a reputation for being associated with hobbies and special interests but underneath everything it’s a way to connect with like-minded and like-oriented people. Their motto is “find your people.”
Shapr – this is an app that started in Paris and jumped across the pond to New York. It’s a swiping app – but focused on business. Perhaps you are looking for a co-founder, a new job, or simply new friends in town. The algorithm matches you with others who are looking for the same in concert with certain hashtags you have identified, be they professional like #entrepreneurship or #socialmedia or ones of your own whimsy like #skiing or #travel.
Create your own old-fashioned analog gathering, be it a board game night or a dinner party. Going back to what I said at the beginning – we want to do business with people we know and like and the best way to get to know someone is outside of their work setting, outside of their elevator pitch, when they aren’t in dress code, when they can be who they truly are. This kind of gathering, or platform, also gives you the opportunity to introduce people right then and there instead of waiting for an email prompt.
As your network continues to grow and you change networking from an activity to a mindset, don’t miss opportunities to add value to others. Whether it’s a facebook group or email list in which you share interesting links and articles, or whether you take time each week to write a recommendation for someone in your LinkedIn network, or whether you simply ask to get coffee with someone without a specific purpose in mind other than continuing to get to know them better, you’re indicating by your actions that you are someone who genuinely cares about people, connecting them, and enriching their lives. That’s the kind of networking we all can get excited about.
If you’re interested in challenging yourself to do get better at networking and presenting yourself, we’ve got a free 30-Day Challenge at the Art of Charm in which you’ll be given 10 different challenges to level up your personal and networking skills. Maybe we will see you in there and get to know you too.