I am frequently asked to give advice about networking. And if you’re taking advice from me on this, then you’re probably going to the wrong place. That’s because I totally stink at networking. And admit it: you do too, don’t you? There’s something a little smarmy about being a good “networker.” It conjures up an image of the travelling salesman with the big yellow tie and the loud sport jacket, shaking hands, winking, waving at people across the room. Insincere. A bit…dodgy. So if you’re bad at networking, like me, don’t get bummed. It’s probably for these three reasons. And although I’m not great at it, I’ve learned a few ways to handle these issues.
Reason 1: You feel pressure.
You’re at the networking event – it’s a business card exchange, or a Chamber breakfast, or a cocktail reception. You could be home with your family. You could be walking the dog. You could even be in your office quietly doing paperwork with music playing softly behind you. But instead you’re at this event and you know nobody. And you’re thinking to yourself “Confound it, I’m here. I need to be networking! I need to be doing something!” And so you find yourself in forced conversations, making awkward small talk with people you don’t know and for the most part you don’t care about. The solution? Forget the metrics and don’t worry about how many business cards you’re going back with. Just one good conversation can make the event worthwhile, either personally or professionally. Just chill and have a good time. When I lower my self-imposed expectations I find that I just have a better time. Did that turn into more leads? Who cares?
Reason #2: You’re in the wrong place.
Could anything be more bizarre than exchanging business cards with a complete stranger at a bar you never go to on a night you would never go out, drinking a drink you would never drink? Feng-shui is a big part of networking. The place has to be right. The atmosphere has to work. You have to be comfortable in your surroundings. So make it a point to only go to networking events in places that you like. Maybe it really is a bar. Or maybe it’s an event at the ballpark. Or a bowling alley. If you put yourself in a place that’s strange and weird then you’re going to act strange and weird too. Like real estate, networking is all about location, location, location.
Reasons #3: You’re not having fun.
Is going to a Chamber of Commerce breakfast at the town library fun? Or a business card exchange at a diner? Please say no. Because it’s not. These places aren’t fun. Unfortunately, most networking events aren’t held backstage at a Paul McCartney concert. Instead they’re at libraries, diners, bars and hotel meeting rooms. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself and also meet some new people at the same time. Pick networking groups that participate in activities that you like. Join a bike club. Play softball. Attend a reading club. Or if you want to gravitate towards something more professional, pick a group on meetups.org that focuses on a topic of professional interest that you like: sales and marketing, technology, psychology, Keurig maintenance, napping. You’ll find like-minded people there from all sorts of different places and backgrounds and you may even stumble on an opportunity or two as well. At the very least, you’ll learn something that you can use on the job, which also has its value.
I’m terrible at networking. You’re terrible at networking. Why? Because you’re a normal person. And networking isn’t normal. But you can make it better – even enjoy it, if you want.
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