Welcome to our latest blog, where I’m going to talk about the art of networking. You know… that thing us business folks do to make connections with other business folks in the professional world. But hey, let’s be honest. For many of us, networking is about as fun as trying to crack a joke at a funeral (which, if you’ve never tried it… is NOT fun). And unless you are tipping the extreme scales of extroversion, cracking jokes in this type of environment, or networking for that matter, isn’t a thing that comes naturally to most of us.
Frankly, there are times when the last thing I want to do is walk into a room full of strangers, try to turn on the charm, and strike up a conversation that will lead to a meaningful connection. Yet, I often find that once I get over that initial dread and find someone to engage with, I inevitably do end up finding my stride. So, for those of us still learning to get over the initial networking hump, let’s dive in and explore a few tips for making the whole concept of networking a bit more enjoyable.
The Importance of Networking: “Why network when I can Netflix and chill?”
Look, I get it. Networking can sound about as appealing as watching a documentary about mold. But here’s the thing – networking is crucial for both your personal and professional growth. Try thinking of it like going to the gym, except that instead of lifting weights, you’re lifting opportunities. And the more you lift, the stronger you become and the more opportunities you create. All of which does the body good.
So, as tempting as the latest episode of Wednesday may be, let’s put down the remote, jump off the couch, and discuss some of the ways that networking can benefit you:
- Expand your network: Attending networking events allows you to meet like-minded folks, potential mentors, and even possible future collaborators. You’re not always going to strike gold, but simply attending an event or two each week increases the odds of meeting someone that can change the trajectory of your career.
- Career development: Depending on your goals, networking is a great way to enhance your career prospects. By engaging with other professionals, you can not only learn new industry trends, but also learn about potential job openings. You can even bounce ideas around to make more informed decisions about your professional journey.
- Skills enhancement and continuous learning: Many networking events consist of some sort of panel, workshop, lecture, or other type of content with networking mixed in. Using these types of events as an opportunity to learn and share knowledge helps you acquire new insights that can be shared with others, thereby increasing your individual positive influence. Plus, simply by attending the event, you get to practice and hone your conversational and listening skills.
- A chance to have some fun: Summer networking, in particular, tends to be more relaxed. Events are often outdoors. The casual atmosphere fosters more natural conversations which makes the experience that much more enjoyable. Plus, taking a break from routine and experiencing something new opens the door to serendipity.
Ok. Now that I’ve convinced you to attend (wink), let’s talk about what you should do to make the most of each networking opportunity:
- Start with a clear goal: Before diving headfirst into this networking circus, figure out want you want to achieve. As a former coach of mine put it, ask yourself, “Am I drinking or working?” Either one is fine, just be clear on which one it is. (If it’s the former, be intentional and be sure to keep hydrated…) If it’s the latter, be intentional. Are you looking for new job opportunities? Do you want to meet potential collaborators? Partners? Defining your objectives first, will allow you to make moves that are both thoughtful and tactically aligned with your larger goals.
- Expand your network strategically: Forget about collecting business cards like they’re Pokémon cards. Instead, focus on quality connections. Find people that share your passions. Seek out events where these types of folks are likely to congregate. Remember, it’s quality over quantity. If you meet someone that doesn’t fit, politely excuse yourself and move on.
- Be proactive and approachable: Look, I get it. We’re all a little socially awkward. But when it comes to networking, you can’t hug the wall, you gotta put yourself out there. Strike up a conversation. Crack a joke or two. If you don’t have any, fire up Google and find some that make you laugh, or at least smile. Remember, laughter is the ultimate icebreaker.
- Give before you ask: Networking is not a one-way street. In fact, the best thing you can do is to give before you receive. Think of it like a comedy show, the comedian has to give the audience something to laugh at before getting their applause. There are many ways to “give” to others in a networking setting. Offer support. Share resources. Help others in your network. At the end of the day, it’s about building trust and creating lasting relationships.
- Follow up and stay connected: After the networking event, don’t ghost your leads and potential partners. Be sure to follow up with the people you meet. Send them an article they might find interesting. Invite them to attend another event as your guest. Stay connected through social media. Cultivate and maintain each connection you make. The more you do, the more opportunity you create for yourself and further expand your network.
Conclusion: “Networking: Connecting the World, One Bad Joke at a Time”
While networking may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it is a necessary ingredient for success in the business world. So, embrace the awkwardness, be bold and put yourself out there. Connect with others and each time you do, you will get a little more comfortable. Finally, remember that networking is a long-term investment. It takes time and a lot of giving first before the seeds you plant start to grow. By following the steps above, you can increase your odds of success and have a little more fun along the way.