By Devora Zack
Do you associate networking with shameless self-promotion and ‘more = more’? Does that make your stomach turn? Me too!
Networking has a bad reputation as a forum for superficial small talk. Yet real networking is about establishing mutually beneficial, lasting connections, one person at a time. And with my modern approach to networking, even you can shine and thrive at a board meeting, convention, or free-floating cocktail party.
The reason so many of us hate networking – and profess to stink at it – is because we’ve been futilely following the wrong rules. Rules that only work for a paltry 15% of the population and require us to be phony – a sure fire way to short circuit.
10 Tips For People Who Hate Networking
Networking for People Who Hate Networking (Berrett-Koehler 2010), which is translated into 11 languages, offers a completely new – and infinitely more effective take – on networking. Networking isn’t about working a room or telling everyone how fabulous you are. Real networking is building meaningful, lasting, mutually beneficial connections one person at a time.
This new and improved definition of networking means being true to you; capitalizing on your strengths, and tossing aside ‘rules’ that don’t match your temperament. The book’s self-assessment identifies your networking style. However, here are a few tidbits designed especially for you:
1. Be True To You
You are better qualified to be you than anyone else. Stamp out networking advice that demands you behave in ways that drain you. Harness natural abilities as networking strengths rather than liabilities. Like to listen, not talk? Do it. Energize alone? Go for it. Prefer one-on-one conversation? Arrange it.
2. Realize Less Is More
Be selective. Go to fewer events and be more focused when attending – rather than dragging your weary self to every business opportunity and showing up like a networking prisoner.
3. Plan Your First Impression
Cognitive scientists say it can take up to 200 times the amount of information to undo a first impression as it takes to make one. Who has that kind of spare time? Not you! Show up with the best version of you, every time. You never know who you are meeting.
Many of us dislike networking events because we don’t know what to say to a group of strangers. Free floating through a room is a fast track to free-floating anxiety. What to do? Simple. Volunteer to help out. Voila! You have a purpose and something to talk about. Even better, you position yourself as someone helpful – proving how indispensable you are rather than telling everyone about it.
5. Get In Line
This strategy is brilliant. You walk into a networking event with nowhere to go and no one to glom onto. What’s a desperate networker to do? Get in a queue. Any queue. The longer the better!
Why? A queue gives you a place to put your body and a temporary purpose in the world. There are only two people to talk with – the person in front and person behind you. There is a reward – whatever is given out at the front of the queue. And a natural ending – the front of the queue. Nice meeting you! Ta-ta!
6. Set Challenging Yet Achievable Networking Goals
Well-formed goals vary by personality. At a networking event, task yourself with meeting one or two people, not a dozen. And follow up (see #10!).
7. Show Don’t Tell
Rather than boring others with a canned advert of how marvelous you are, demonstrate live-time your fabulous self. Be useful and gracious. Greet others with a warm smile and leap at every chance to be helpful.
Rather than wandering cavernous expo halls at industry events, do your pre-work. Learn in advance what organizations are of particular interest. Spend more time with fewer people. Impress key targets with your knowledge of who they are and why you are a perfect match.
Ever sense your remarks just shoot off a cliff and crash to the ground? Who needs that kind of pressure? Instead focus on those around you, asking thoughtful questions. Network via a sincere interest in others rather than promoting your fine self.
10. Follow-Up Or Forget About It
If you’re not following up, you’re not networking! We forget half of what we hear within 48 hours. Write personalized follow-up within two days or risk having your brilliant remarks erased permanently from the minds of those you wowed. If you’re not following up, you’re not networking.