Networking (noun): a supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups having a common interest – Dictionary.com
Networking is a part of working life for all professionals and we all understand it’s value. Some people are great at it, sweeping effortlessly across the room collecting business cards, scanning profiles on their LinkedIn app and making meaningful connections. Whilst many others detest the whole sordid business, trapped in a very public nightmare teetering at the edge of the corporate precipice staring into a vast chasm of social rejection.
The rest of us are somewhere in the middle and find ourselves veering from one end of the spectrum to the other and where we end up, is largely influenced by the circumstances we find ourselves, the channel we use and our own motivation for being there.
Regardless of the size of the event from small intimate groups, workshops, large corporate conferences or something altogether fancy schmancy, it’s commonplace to feel a little nervous. Even for those of us that thrive on social interactions, we can easily default into exhibitionism and shouting way too loudly about ourselves caused by all that pent-up energy and nervous anticipation.
Even for extroverts, networking well, is a skill that needs a bit of effort and some practice. On a few occasions, I have enthusiastically thrown myself into conversations that have been pure cringe and hideously awkward. On reflection, all that was needed was prior planning, some great questions and a conscious filter on what tumbled out of my gaping mouth.
At a networking event in the early noughties with an array of leaders from across the organisation, I forced myself to meet new people and found a kind looking man who introduced himself as ‘Keith’ but in my inexperience and nervousness my immediate response was ‘Oh great name, when I have a dog, I want to name it Keith’. Even with the truth and sincerity behind my words, we both came away utterly mortified and unsurprisingly no lasting professional connection was made.
In most social situations we naturally gravitate towards people we know and faces we recognise and professional networking events are no exception. Allowing ourselves to get drawn into comfortable conversations with people we already know can easily detract from our purpose. Have you ever had your time monopolised by Bob in accounts droning on about his new super-duper-save-the-company-millions-of-pounds spreadsheet? Well take heed my extrovert friends, this could well be us. We might think we are telling a cracking story of success and a journey of overcoming corporate adversity but what others hear is ‘blah, blah, blah, blaaaah’.
At an evening drinks networking event I was having a discussion with a big cheese senior leader – you know the ones have 3 letter abbreviations after their names – from the financial services sector. When we were interrupted, I apologised and tried to pick up where we left off ‘I’m sorry, what were we talking about?’ and his immediate response as he swigged his third glass of red wine ‘yes, you were talking about yourself’.
Trust me I’ve learnt the hard way that being a natural extrovert and life of the party is not enough preparation to see you through a successful networking experience. Ask questions and listen to the other person to build trust and nurture the relationship. You need to care less about your story and more on the content of your conversations. The more I have engaged in networking activities; it’s gotten easier and appropriate behaviours have become good habits.
If you read all of the available hints and tips on networking, they will ALL say ‘be yourself’. If you’re an extrovert like me, don’t be yourself too much. Strangers and email acquaintances aren’t ready to be blinded by your brilliance, just yet. At best you’ll end up looking foolish and a little unhinged and at worst you’ll come across an absolute tool that nobody wants to be associated with.
Networking is great if we get it right. Go out there, share information, ideas and resources. Focus less on yourself and more on the other smart interesting people in the room.
Giang Hughes can be found at the next Simplify Resourcing networking event asking questions and making it about you. If you would like to come join us at our next event to meet the team and industry peers, please email firstname.lastname@example.org