Networking isn’t something you do. It’s a way to be
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 Business Networking: not seeing networking as an “activity” but instead as a mindset.
At a Business Networking event, we are often going to hear elevator pitches, and that’s fine; we expect to listen to them. But what we’re not planning to do, right away, is connect people who are virtually strangers to our 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 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 begin to find 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 realize you aren’t coming with a transnational, 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 Business Networking to happen to you. You can create your ways to network that is ever more focused and targeted.
Meetup – while there are plenty of groups on Meetup that are just noise or one-hit wonders, some groups provide value through frequent meetings and significant events. If you aren’t finding something you’re looking for – don’t start your 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.”
Share – 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 looking for the same in concert with specific hashtags you have identified, be they professional like #entrepreneurship or #socialmedia or ones of your whimsy like #skiing or #travel.
Create your 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 allows you to introduce people right then and there instead of waiting for an email prompt.
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 Business Networking from an activity to a mindset, don’t miss opportunities to add value to others in your network in the following ways:
- Contact via Facebook group or email list in which you share interesting links and articles
- Each week write a recommendation for someone in your LinkedIn network
- Simply ask to get coffee with someone without a specific purpose in mind other than to get to know them better,
Following these tips indicates by your actions that you genuinely care about people, connect them, and enrich their lives. That’s the kind of networking we all can get excited about.
If you’re interested in challenging yourself to get better at networking and presenting yourself, we’ve got a free 30-Day Challenge at the Art of Charm. You’ll be given ten different challenges to level up your personal and networking skills. Maybe we will see you there and get to know you too.