Are you someone who dreads networking? Is it something you feel like you SHOULD be doing to make progress in your career or your business?
Well there is valid data to back up why we should be doing it more often, as this LinkedIn survey found that 70% of respondents got hired at a company where they had an existing connection, and 35% said that a casual conversion on LinkedIn led to a new opportunity.
Networking can feel daunting but ultimately it’s just about talking to people we like and making genuine connections, and we can all do that right?
So here are some ways that you can network in a way that feels authentic and enjoyable, but will also get you results:
1. Firstly remember that not all networking looks alike. It might be a workshop or conference where you learn something new and then chat to other participants in the breaks. It might be a lunch or coffee with someone who you have mutual connections with. It might take the form of an online Facebook or LinkedIn group that you contribute to a couple of times a week. Choose a format that you feel most comfortable with and go from there.
2. If you spot an event that you’d like to attend but feel intimidated because you won’t know anyone, then why not bring a friend? There’s no rule to say you have to do this alone. If you have a friend or colleague who already knows people at the event and can make introductions then great. But also if they’re a great wing woman (or man) who will encourage you, then by all means just take them along for moral support. However it’s important that you don’t don’t end up hiding in corner together and gossiping to each other all night as that kind of defeats the point!
3. If you’re going alone then make yourself accountable and set yourself a time limit. This has worked well for me when I’ve been going to an event and felt really nervous. Firstly I pre-book my ticket if it’s a paid event, tell someone else that I’m going and ask them to hold me accountable. Secondly I tell myself I’ll go for 20mins and speak to one person, then if I’ve managed that then I’ll allow myself to go home if I really need to. Of course once I’m there, I usually end having a great time and chatting to some lovely people, but those little tricks help to calm my panicky brain and get me in the door in the first place.
4. If you’re an introvert and think that’s make you less good at networking then think again. Introverts are good listeners and often deeper thinkers, so that makes you great at asking the right questions and building meaningful connections. No-one likes those people at networking events who just want to pitch you, hand over their business card and then move on. Ugh.
5. Play the long game. Relationships can take time to evolve and deepen, and it’s no different with networking. Don’t be one sided or pushy. Be curious about the other person, be present with them (no scanning the room mid-conversation!) and offer to help them if you can. It all contributes to your networking karma.
6. At the same time, be focused and know what you eventually want to get out of it. Whether you’re attending an event or arranging a coffee with a contact, have an objective. Do you want to learn more about a potential role? Ask for an introduction to a particular person or company? Meet potential clients? Knowing your ‘ask’ will give you focus and stop you wasting time and energy on the wrong activities or events.
7. Follow up. Met someone interesting where there was collaboration potential? Don’t be afraid to ask for their business card or how you can find them online. You can follow their social media accounts afterwards and interact with their content to keep the relationship warm, or if you want to chat further then send them a friendly message and invite them to a quick coffee or Skype chat if they’re open to it. Don’t worry too much if they say no, they might be too busy at that moment in time but still be open to staying in touch in the future.
So there you have it. You never know who you might meet and how they could impact your career and your life. And at the very least, you will have got to meet interesting new people and probably got some free snacks out of it. What’s not to love?!
Now I’d love to hear what’s worked for you. Where have your best work connections come from? Have you tried some unusual routes? How do you get over your pre-event nerves? Share in the comments below!