In favor of networking
Making a case for networking means addressing many of the fears we have when we think about partaking of the activity.
And we really should be partaking of the activity, because the future of work is an uncertain and unpredictable place, and the value of your network is in helping you to navigate these choppy waters with resilience and support.
I have met many people who are chatty and friendly, and highly competent in what they do, yet they visibly shrink when the word networking comes up, as though it were an unpleasant word. I have met many others at networking events, who are uncomfortable beyond belief at being there, but grinning and bearing it through forced smiles and firm handshakes as though it were an unwelcome chore that they just had to get through.
So let’s get to the bottom of this negative and unpleasant association we have with networking. Because I’m going to lay my cards on the table here and admit it .. I love networking. I do. Not as much as I love running, or going out for a nice dinner with friends, but it is right up there with one of my favourite business activities to do.
Not just because I am an extrovert and a very talkative Cork native, because it isn’t always better to be a chatter when you’re networking. Anyone who has attended my networking workshops will know that I believe listening is the number one skill to great networking, and so the chatty extrovert can sometimes shoot themselves in the foot.
I love networking because I love people. I think people are fundamentally interesting creatures, and I love finding out more about them. And I firmly believe that networking is a people-focused activity first and foremost. We need to approach it with a genuine curiosity to meet people and want to learn a little more about them.
The Fears we have around Networking
So what are these fears that we need to dispel about the activity of networking?
I think there are three main ones:
1. Fear that a networking event is a sales event
Honestly, if I thought going networking was about going selling, I would very rarely, maybe never, go. But we tend to have this fear that as soon as we enter a networking room, we are going to be approached by all sorts of hard-selling salespeople, intent on pushing their wares at us, and us, being too nice and also too awkward and uncomfortable already, are going to sign up to everything from an outrageously expensive life insurance policy to a 20 year lease on a jeep, and maybe even a lifetime supply of shellac nail treatments to boot.
And then the double dread is that we are now also expected to go about the room, pressing the sweaty flesh and hard-selling our own wares on all the poor misfortunates that we meet.
Doesn’t this sound like the room of nightmares? Everyone selling, desperate to get a sale, whilst equally desperate not to be forced into being sold to!
Thankfully for all of us, this is not what networking is about.
Networking is about relationships, not sales. I really cannot stress this enough. I don’t want to write it in bold capitals because it might look a bit shouty and I don’t want to be in your face like that.
Some people will go networking with an intention of making a sale, and they may make one sale, and that is where the value of their networking activity ends, in that one sale.
But when you go networking with a view to meeting some interesting people, having conversations that may lead to a connection, then there is so much more value in this. Our connections, if we nurture them, turn into meaningful and mutually beneficial business relationships. The value in these relationships compounds over time, as knowledge and information is shared, referrals are made, recommendations are given, support and troubleshooting is available, and you advocate for one another across your other networks and social media channels.
2. Fear of rejection
I recommend in all of my workshops that you partake of networking solo. You may arrive at the venue with a colleague, but in order to get the greatest benefit from your time, you should work the room alone. This can lead to our second fear, our fear of rejection. What if everyone else is in small groups chatting and seeming to know one another, and you are alone on the sidelines, with no one to chat to, and reluctant to approach a group for fear of being ignored, or unwelcome?
The thing about networking is that it is not just a social event. Most people understand that they are there to meet new people, and have conversations that may be valuable and lead to solid and worthwhile connections. With that in mind, it’s important to realise then that most people are open to new people joining their chats. In many respects it really is the more the merrier. Many experienced networkers will at all times be keeping an eye out for people on their own, and will be quick to make eye contact and invite them over to join in.
A degree of courage is needed for sure. Because even though the fear of rejection is largely unfounded, it is a real fear all the same. So we need to be brave, fake it until we become it, and walk over confidently to join some interesting people.
3. Fear of having nothing to say / saying something silly
I believe that the art of networking is the art of conversation, and so instead of stressing about elevator pitches and perfect opening sentences, we need to just relax and realise that we can just start with a ‘hello, how are you’?
Elevator pitches and perfect openers are the fodder of selling and promoting yourself, and whilst you likely will get a chance to explain who you are and what you do, your focus first and foremost should be on improving at the essential art of conversation.
Relationships are built on a foundation of conversation. For it is through the richness of conversation that we connect as human beings, learning little bits about one another, finding commonalities and shared values, making one another smile and feel comfortable.
Once the conversation has relaxed us, then by all means we can get into the chatting about what it is we do, and why it is that we are amazing and unique at it. But we are so much more interesting as human beings than what we do, and that is what should lead us in conversation initially. That is what will break down the barriers of formality and allow us to connect on that essential human level.
So there you have it, in brief, my case in favor of networking, and addressing some of our fears associated with it. If you would like some training on networking for your company, then do get in touch for a chat firstname.lastname@example.org, 0862127901.