In this increasingly digital world, Networking and attending events is still very important, and yet some people fundamentally dread them! This idea of Networking with a capital N suggests some kind of mysterious skill-set that supposedly magically guarantees you career success and a superb network.
Unsurprisingly, people often therefore want the ‘how-to’ guide and/or some practical tips to master this elusive skill. However, any kind of advice must surely start with the question, ‘what does networking mean to you?’
In my first session with a coaching client called Sarah, this question soon surfaced. Sarah ‘hated’ networking and felt it wasn’t very ‘her’. Yet she knew that to succeed in her field of work, meeting new people was key.
What Sarah disliked was the idea of rocking up solo to a large drinks reception (or similar) and starting the daunting task of approaching people, whilst obviously not being caught looking at their name badges (we’ve all been there). Similarly she found it hard to escape conversations that were not interesting or where the people were clearly not interested in her services. She’d never made many useful career connections through events. This was what networking meant to her.
3 things to consider when approaching networking:
What do I want to achieve?
Sarah has an introverted personality, is a consultant by background and normally has a very analytical approach to everything she does. However, she was only going to events that involved large groups of people where the onus was on her and her alone to make any introductions, and secondly she chose quite a random selection of events.
Once she focused on the outcomes she would like, the formats that would suit her, the themes of events that would attract like-minded people, she found many groups and events that were far more valuable to her and she soon made meaningful connections.
Not directly related, but an inspiring talk to focus your approach is Simon Sinek’s TED talk about the power of the question ‘Why’. Why do you really want to network?
What do I have to give?
The brilliant work of Adam Grant has highlighted the importance of giving when striving for success. I can’t tell you how many copies of Give and Take I’ve bought for people (a must-read), but essentially when we focus on what we can give, the results can be astonishing as his research has shown. His idea of ‘5 minute-favours’ for example, could change the way you approach your existing network and those you are now starting to build.
See Adam Grant’s TED Talk on Powerless Communication here
The importance of ‘weak ties’
The clinical psychologist Dr. Meg Jay’s work on the importance of what she calls ‘weak ties’ is something worth thinking about when approaching networking. In essence, Jay asks us to think of where significant connections (be that professional or personal) have come from in our lives. It’s certainly true for me that landing my current job at PDT Global, training to be a career coach, and joining Ambition First – the three things which now dominate my life – all came from weak ties, and I knew nothing of them 18 months ago. Therefore, when you attend networking events, think about the ‘weak ties’ you may have made, you never know where these connections may take you. Similarly, perhaps you can invite a ‘weak tie’ contact to an event with you, who knows what that will bring you both? See Dr. Meg Jay’s TED Talk here
These are things you can only consider for yourself but the next time you, or someone you know says they don’t like networking events, just dig a little deeper.
Kusia Pell is a Global Inclusions Solutions Consultant at PDT Global.