The Secret to Authentic Networking
Written by Anna LeDonne
Raise your hand if the word “networking” makes you squirm. Something about “promoting yourself” to a room full of strangers can seem completely disingenuous. Or perhaps your resistance to networking comes from a social anxiety of speaking to groups or an opposition to small talk. I know I’ve felt intimidated by the presumption that everyone is networking solely to get something for themselves or that there is too much pressure on the outcome. For many, the thought of networking can be terrifying or even paralyzing.
However, it’s no secret that the benefits of networking can do wonders for your business. Eighty-five percent of jobs are filled through networking and benefits include gaining sales, new clients and large investors. Yet, nearly 1 in 4 Americans say they decline to network at all. If you’re an entrepreneur or a high level executive, you’re aware that the benefits of networking outweigh the fear, but it doesn’t make the anxiety go away.
How can you combat the fear or the stigma of navigating a networking event?
Shift Your Perspective
The secret to networking stems from a shift in mindset. In fact, we may want to “re-brand” networking and for our purposes think of “networking” as “connecting.” Shift your perspective from “what can I get out of this?” to “what can I do for the other person?”
It’s About the Depth of Relationships
Think of someone that you have genuinely enjoyed meeting or have formed a relationship with in the past few months--congratulations! This person is officially in your network. That’s the goal: forming genuine relationships. So the next time you meet someone who might mutually benefit from another friend of yours, recommend them to each other or set up a connection. It’s about the depth of your connections, not about how many people you can meet in an hour.
Ditch the Small Talk
How many times have you heard: “So, what do you do?” or heaven help us: “How about this weather?” Do you want to groan and crawl under the table? Here’s the trick: get personal. The quickest way to gain trust and mutual understanding with someone is by being vulnerable and open. Yes, even in a professional setting. Share something slightly personal with your new acquaintance and give information on how you navigated the situation. Chances are he/she will feel inclined to reciprocate and voila, you are now having a conversation beyond the weather, and you are forming genuine connections.
Be Intentional with your Time
There are certain networking events that you simply won’t vibe with and others that you will love! Try anything that speaks to you and evaluate at the end of the evening. Ask yourself: Did that event feel aligned? Do I feel drained? Did I meet anyone I enjoyed speaking with? Cross off events that don’t feel right and move forward with the ones that do. If “networking events” in general are not your style, try one-on-one coffee dates or speaking opportunities that allow you to share your message without the party.
Make a Plan, but Go with the Flow
If you’re still wary of starting conversations with strangers, come up with a plan. Develop a stockpile of go-to ice breaker stories and follow up questions. If someone else starts a conversation with a shallow topic, think of ways to steer the conversation into a more interesting direction. Example: If someone just returned from vacation, instead of asking an open ended “How was it?” try something along the lines of: “What is one thing you learned during your trip?” or “I just read a study that says employees who take vacation days perform better than those who don’t. Do you think taking time to yourself contributes to your creativity?” Above all, listen and respond. Don’t focus too much on what you’re planning to say next and accidentally ignore what the other person is sharing.
Foster the Relationship
Your connection opportunity does not conclude at the end of a cocktail mixer. Send a thank you note to people you are interested in continuing relationships with and schedule follow up coffee dates to keep in touch. Continue to send them articles or anything you think they may be interested in. Or simply send them a compliment and let them know you are thinking about them. A little effort goes a long way.
Go forth and get connected!
For more tips on networking magic, read Betsie’s Huffington Post article here.