The secret to effective networking

Many people struggle with this one. It seems to be such an important skill to have and to use for anyone in pretty much any business. How do you build a network that can help further your business or career? Please allow me to give you my thoughts on this.

Networking is especially a challenge for introverts who feel reluctant to just walk up to strangers and engage in some mindless conversation in order to “work the room”. There are numerous books, white papers and blogs out there on the value of networking. What many disagree on is the “how”. How do you go about networking? I am going to throw my hat into the mix here with my own perspective. You judge for yourself whether this will work for you.

The most excruciating thing about networking is the idea of having to crawl up to complete strangers and start up a conversation with the intent of getting noticed. The purpose, many articles and books on networking will tell you, is so that you can a build a base of contacts that you can lean on when you want to sell that product or ask for that favour especially when the favour is finding your next job.

T’aint so.

Let me tell you why I believe that.

Imagine yourself finally drumming up enough courage to go to this big networking event. You step into the room and think, “Woah! All these people! There are probably about 300 of them here. I will just walk up to them, give them my rehearsed canned blurb designed to impress the pants off them, hand them my business card and then just bombard them with requests for favours to do for me. It will be great!”

Unfortunately you were thinking out aloud and everyone heard it.

If the positions were reversed would you help out some weasel just because they were kissing up to you?

My first piece of advice to you is “be yourself”. Sounds simple. But believe me it is easier to be yourself than try to be someone else. Now don’t get me wrong. If you like interrupting people, love the sound of your own voice, prefer talking to listening, want to win every argument and debate and will be aggressive about it, think that every subject must end up with some reference to you, have no tact, are completely insensitive to cultural issues and norms and basically are an absolute jerk, then I do suggest you make a change.

If on the other hand, you are a little shy, or a little reserved, not too outgoing but otherwise a nice person then you’ll be fine. If you still feel you need to work on those things and “improve” then that is fine, but don’t push it too hard. Do it in baby steps. Put one toe in that direction, see how it feels, then make the full step, see how it feels and if it still feels comfortable then go for it. Then move to the next step.  Just make sure you are not acting or faking it. It will be obvious. Better to be sincere.

For now let’s stick with being your nice self. When you enter that room this is what you should be thinking, “Wow, a lot of people. I wonder if there is something I can do for any of them, or maybe all of them, however small”. Get the idea?

Networking is about you doing things for others and being yourself, that’s all. The rewards will come later when people reciprocate. And many, even if not all, will want to reciprocate because they too would like to have a network of grateful friends. Your focus will be on finding opportunities to do things for others. Your whole presentation, your introduction will subtly have that message embedded in it. “Hi. My name is so and so, I fix cabinets, computers, solve data problems, teach magic” (whatever it is that you do), “perhaps I can get this or that done for you”. Not necessarily those exact words of course. I am paraphrasing here. You have to speak naturally depending on the context. Bottom line: you must think of the value of what you do in terms of how it serves others. A word of caution. Please read on.

Be careful how much you allow yourself to help others. While giving some advice, tips, referrals, even some pro bono work might be very helpful in building a network, you don’t want to be in a position where you have to give what you cannot afford. Only give what you can give with ease, without pain and not much expense. Preferably no expense. Don’t bind yourself into commitments that completely consume your time and resources to the extent that you cannot do your own work and meet your own obligations.

So to recap: Networking = be yourself + offer help.

Hopefully with this I have dispelled some of the mystery of networking. Hope you found it useful.

Thanks for reading

Muneer

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