For the longest time I dreaded networking and to be honest I still do. But over the years I have figured out different ways to make the experience that little less uncomfortable. I can’t promise that these will help you work the room at the next event you go to, like a pro but maybe they will give you that little bit more confidence.
I have been able to make some incredible connections online. The thing with social media is, you can build a relationship with someone through interacting with what they post. Also if you are in a sector where you tend to go to events and see similar faces, it breaks the ice because they know you already from your social presence. Twitter for me has helped me make a number of connections, if I see a tweet I find interesting, I then go to their profile, if their timeline looks interesting, I DM them with a “hey you seem really interesting, I would love to know more.” You would be surprised at how responsive people are, I have even met people offline as a result. For formal events I also request the guest list before hand so I can research people and know who I want to talk to.
When you volunteer or help out at an event, your job is often to coordinate the event and ensure everyone is okay. Volunteering at an event that interests you is a great way to build connections. When you are given a title of events volunteer and a special t-shirt, the label alone can give you a sense of confidence, and also give you something to do whilst networking. I’m a part of Muslamic Makers who are always looking out for volunteers as well as Muslim Women Connect.
Find the person that looks like they don’t want to be there. You’re not the only one who doesn’t want to be there. One of my tips is to say hello to the person in the corner who also looks like they are over thinking how to navigate the room.
At events, there’s the impulse to say “what do you do” because somehow we all become defined by our roles in our work life. I’ve found asking “what’s your story?” makes for much better conversation as the person can also interpret it how they want. And let’s be real, they’ve probably repeated what they do for work at least 5 times already. I’ve also found this question is more inclusive to those that are either not in work or don’t hold what they do in high regard which can kill the conversation.
This varies depending on the context of the course and isn’t a blanket rule. Unless there is a specific follow up. I’ve found social media a great platform to connect. Twitter is my best friend. Through social, you can maintain the relationship which is great when it is harder to go through emails. Linkedin is also a great way to carry on interacting.
Sometimes it can be difficult to move on from a conversation and speak to other people in the room. I’m guilty of the “I’m just going to get a drink” or “I’m just going to use the bathroom” excuse. An easy way is to find a point where it feels the conversation is coming to a close and say,
“it’s been really nice to talk, what’s the best way to keep in touch?”
“it’s been really nice to talk, I’ll see you around the evening, enjoy your night.”
With networking, it is important to keep an open mind. Relationships continue beyond this conversation. A lot of people tend to approach networking as “what value can I extract from you and what value can I give you”. This can sometimes make it hard for you to genuinely engage with someone because you don’t see the immediate value of connecting. You want to get into the habit of building relationships without an immediacy to your needs. The unlikeliest of connections may bring up an opportunity in the future. Just the other day, someone I met 2 years ago messaged me to ask if I would do a talk at an event they were organising. If you focus on really trying to get to know the person and build a relationship rather than thinking what you can get, the process is a lot more enjoyable and you are more likely to build a lasting connection.
Reading Quiet by Susan Cain really shifted my perception of my introversion and no longer became a badge that I thought was my downfall.
I’ve personally found intimate events are the best for me in terms of networking, this might be a dinner meetup of 6 people or a small weekend brunch. But I do appreciate these aren’t common.
I became fed up with coming home and feeling like I wasted my opportunity. So thereon I told myself, you just need to have a good convo with 1 person. It takes the pressure off and gives you satisfaction knowing you spent your time wisely and believing that this person was destined to be on your path.
The aim is not to talk about yourself, it’s to make meaningful connections. Humans love talking about themselves, so use your listening skills and ask the right questions to be able to get to know the person.
For me, this is just D.R.A.I.N.I.N.G.
It can be intimidating to enter into a group of people deep in chatter, the feeling of being an outsider bubbles to the surface, and leaves you hobbling on the spot unable to move with conviction, you look a little like you have one foot facing the door, whilst the other is begging for someone to show a glance or nod of recognition. Best way to remedy this is to walk right up to the group before you have time to think, say, “hello”, and start listening to the conversation, nod in agreement, and have something valuable to say when it comes to your turn. Think about what they are saying as opposed to the fact that you made it into the circle. That way people will want to know more when you engage with what they’re talking about with an opinion.