Tips for those who hate Networking (but have to do it anyway)
For those following me on LinkedIn, you may have seen that I have been frequenting drinking establishments (aka pubs), around my hometown of Oxford… in the mornings! Do I have a problem? No, I have been networking. Just the mention of it has many in a clammy sweat, and I was very much in that group. I loathed it. Almost every manager I had, and every performance review I attended, networking was aways wheeled out as either my weakness, or my area for growth, or basically my ‘must try harder’ category. Yes, ok, it was a sore spot. I was told that networking was crucial for my exposure, for my career trajectory and basically, was what all my successful peers were acing.
To me, networking meant joining a room full of people who either held similarly awkward views of this horrific debacle playing out in front of us, pressed against the wall desperately avoiding all eye contact, or worse, the other folk – the overly loud, overly confident, insanely ambitious, in your face, career ladder climbers. I avoided it all, with ninja like skill, for two decades.
But look at me now! I am not only actively seeking networking opportunities, but actually finding myself enjoying them. Is this allowed for us introverts? Surely, I am encroaching on the extrovert’s playground? It seems not. I can report back that everyone is welcome, and although, yes there remain a few elbowing their way past you to someone they perceive as more… they are thankfully, firmly in the minority. Most are not seeing each other as direct competition to their very reason for being, and most are not playing out some political script, to which you have not been sent a copy.
So here you are. Having to network. Urgh. I wondered if my sharing some bits that have helped me open that door, put on my name badge, and launch into that conversation, may also help you put your toe back in that water.
Make connection your sole intention.
It seemed to me in the past, that everyone had a private agenda, a point to prove, and it was this element that rubbed against me somewhat. As a new business owner, I knew that networking was something I was going to have to conquer. But in those early months I wasn’t looking for a sales funnel or a client, I was looking for friends. I was looking for support, kind words, encouragement, and advice. I was very much a novice (still am!) – I needed peers, and I needed mentors in this new world I had entered.
I am so glad that this is how I started, because not only did I find a warm and welcoming community, but I also learnt that networking is not about selling. I am sure that will ruffle a few feathers and I shall get emails from networking experts, who will offer to make me a six-figure business by Christmas, if I part with a few thousand in return for their secret formular. But it’s true. Networking is about connection.
Make connection your only intention and let go of any other pressures and targets that you have burdened yourself with. People are genuinely interested in other people – it’s biological wiring - we are all looking to connect and as such you are pushing on an open door.
The currency of real networking is not greed but generosity. Keith Ferrazzi.
Seek out the person stood on their own
This one appeals to my nurturing side. In the first instance it helps me shift my attention off me and any nerves I have walking into a room of strangers, and onto someone else who possibly is having a tougher time of it than me.
The person on their own will almost always love you to death for saving them from the awkwardness they are feeling of not having anyone to talk to. As such it’s a quick and easy win, scout the room, spot them, and walk purposely towards them with a smile. Networking – boom.
Whose inner critic just popped up to tell you there WON’T BE ANYONE STOOD ON THEIR OWN YOU MORON… ?
Well, there almost certainly will be – I’VE SEEN THEM! And if, by chance, there isn’t, just approach a twosome or threesome, stand amongst them and just listen. It will all be ok.
I’ve been on the receiving end of this one – when I’ve been lurking by the coffee trying not to look like a cretin. I could kiss the person that just walks up and says hi – pro’s.
Set yourself a time limit
If the very thought of networking brings you out in a rash, then start small. There is no need to run at breakneck speed towards the deep end of the pool when instead you could sit on the side and dip in a toe.
Setting yourself a time limit is just a simple chunking it down exercise. And by limiting your initial time, you give yourself space to adjust to this new environment. So, if the networking event at your company or as an external event is a two hour or part day affair; then set yourself an initial 20 minute or so commitment. Show up. Speak with one person. And then glide from the room leaving them wanting more, and bask in your awesomeness and natural connection abilities.
Ditch the Pitch
Sorry to all marketeers and PR people who back the pitch approach. Yes, I did develop an elevator pitch for Start to Thrive (a super short, succinct – this is what my company does, why I’m awesome, the one and only, why you need me and what I will do for you), and I nearly made myself vomit with it, let alone any poor sod who had to listen it.
Please don’t tell me how fab you or your company is. If I, or they, are interested, they will ask. Don’t lead with it. It comes back to intention, be genuinely curious about the person in front of you. Don’t know what to say? How about ‘hello, tell me about you’.
Networking – it’s not a dark art, it isn’t the sole domain of the extrovert and it’s not a cold and awkward space. I have found it to be full of people just like me, trying to meet new people, learn new skills (often including how to work the coffee machine) and share stories and experiences. It has provided me with answers to so many things that were unknown to me, given me so much kind advice and yes, by nourishing these new relationships, it has opened doors and provided opportunities.
Everyone you ever meet knows something you don’t. Bill Nye
A thank you to my networks – The Mastermind Queens, Apero, Independent Oxford, OxLEP, ROBIN and Business Buzz.
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