Networking can be seen as a socioeconomic must, a crucial step towards getting ahead in your job. It is estimated that the average person knows about 250 people. And each of those people knows, in turn, another 250 or so people. This means that for each new person you meet, you gain access to a potential pool of 62,500 people separated from you just two ‘degrees’. A no-brainer, right?
Yet many see networking as an uncomfortable and obligatory extension of work, and shy away from it. As long as there is work to be getting on with, and your extra-curricular training and development is looking healthy, it can be deemed acceptable to leave networking to other, more eager business people. But hang on, aren’t those people your competitors?
There is good news. Networking doesn’t have to be forced and doesn’t have to be all about work. There is a way to make it feel like meeting up with some of your favourite and inspiring people and, not forgetting, people who find you interesting and engaging.
Here are some simple steps to detox networking:
Go to the next networking event you hear about
Don’t analyse or predict what type of person will be there, just go. If you need to confirm your attendance, do it immediately, make a commitment. The longer you leave it to think around the event, the more assumptions you will be batting on the day.
Laugh at yourself, with others
Keep your sense of humour near the surface. Networking events can feel as stiff as an interview if nobody sniggers at a trip up the stairs, or a spilled drink. It’s not slapstick, it’s ice-breaking. (Although it’s generally not wise to manufacture such scenarios, just go with them if and when they happen).
Polish your LinkedIn profile
You can refer people to your profile if you feel the conversation is becoming fixed on facts, and connecting with people online afterwards can help keep track of contact details and shared interests. Make sure you list your strengths as well as previous jobs and responsibilities. If there is the possibility of working with new contacts, make sure face-to-face contact is put in the diary within a fortnight. Virtual connections need nurturing.
If you normally go to networking events with colleagues, go alone this time. With nobody to keep you talking in the corner, you will need to make more effort to make in-roads with other people. Single out other lone networkers and start with the basics – name and company – but make sure you ask them what their plans are, be it for the business or for themselves personally. This will give you a clue as to the value of the connection long term and moves the conversation on too. Or introduce yourself to a group that seems to be well established and full of chatter, and piggy-back their positive start.
People generally like to give advice – and they like to be asked to give advice. As Jeffrey Pfeffer (Stanford professor and author of Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t) says: “The best way to build a relationship with someone is to ask them for their advice. What you can often do, as part of the same conversation, is to ask them to describe their own career and their own career success. Because nothing makes people happier than talking about their favourite subject, which is, of course, themselves.”
If you hate ‘working the room’, and crowds leave you cold, remember that networking doesn’t always need to be done en masse. Most people will find 30 minutes for a coffee if you give a compelling enough reason for them doing so. Think of something that they would find useful and entice them with that – or as mentioned in the previous point, ask their advice. Many people enjoy the idea of being a mentor, so go ahead and ask them.
If you have trouble with short-term memory loss, you might find it difficult to remember the name of the person you’ve just been introduced to – only a few minutes earlier! Try repeating their name after you’ve been introduced – this small trick can really help. It’s worth it – as Dale Carnegie (he of How to Win Friends and Influence People fame) said: “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”