I hate the word networking.
And I realllllllllly hate a big room full of strangers. Just the thought gives me the geebies.
If I’m putting it all out there – I get insecure about…well… everything. From my ability to have a good conversation to whether I have spinach in my teeth. Thoughts about my hair, my intelligence, my choice in career path… all of it is up for debate right before I go to one of these “networking” events.
But there came a point in my career where I felt stuck, uninspired, and unfulfilled.
Know that feeling?
And I knew that I needed to surround myself with new people, who were not only doing a job I admired, but were doing it in a way that inspired me to be better, bolder, and get after my passion a bit more.
One of my biggest regrets is not doing this while I was still at my current job in San Francisco. I was surrounded by movers and shakers all over that city – and while I’m thrilled at where I am today – there was a huge missed opportunity to develop killer relationships, learn more about myself, as well as exploring what I wanted more of in my life – all with the support and security of my agency.
Lesson learned. Do not let current situation hold you back from new (potentially awesome) situations.
There are new people, jobs, projects, friends around every single corner – we just have to be willing to move our asses – and poke our heads around that corner to find them.
And I knew I needed it on a personal level as well.
When I turned 30, not only did I start to care about different things, I felt like I was finally understanding who I was, and what I wanted in my life. I felt a newly invigorated desire to make new friends, different ones, crazy interesting ones. Now it was a matter of making that happen.
I just wished there was an easier way then randomly popping into “meet-ups” or signing up for really weird networking events (that I had admittedly judged before even giving a chance). It was just SO PAINFUL (#firstworldproblems?).
But I did it, begrudgingly. And here’s what happened.
I met a lot of really weird people. People I never spoke to again, and people I had really awkward conversations with. It was exhausting and strange.
Oh and also…
I met one of my favorite friends. I met a mentor, someone to teach me how to do what I want to do. I was asked to speak at events. I was referred to some of my favorite clients. I was asked to partner up on projects of my dreams and to be on the board of organizations I admired. I met a girl who I now love like family, and a few guys who inspire me more than I ever knew possible.
It was painful, and exhausting and one of the best things I ever did.
So I wanted to give a little shoutout to all of you who hate networking, because I feel your pain. Here are a few ways to turn networking from gross and uncomfortable to meaningful and rewarding.
*Note before we start, kill the fucking word “networking”. I hate it… change it to “connecting”, because that’s what we’re really doing here.
TIP 1: Get out of your own head, and just go there to learn more about others
People love to be loved, to be admired, to be heard, to feel interesting. So let them. Go there to hear their story, instead of shouting yours.
We put so much pressure on ourselves to say the perfect thing, the smartest thing, the most memorable thing in a conversation. But as Maya reminds us…
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Before every event, I take a minute outside the door to stop thinking about me, and make a conscious decision to become genuinely interested in the people I am about to meet. Like genuinely, for reals, yo – I want to KNOW you.
Not that I want to sound like a narcissist… or make you sound like one either – but the majority of our days are usually spent thinking about ourselves… what we want to eat, what we feel like, what we look like, what we want to do today, what we want to do in our relationships and on and on and on.
The smartest thing you can do at a networking event is make someone feel like they matter… that is a feeling they will remember.
TIP 2: If you want real conversations… ask real questions
Okay Okay – so that’s all good and well, but give me something tangible that will help me stand out from the crowd, while also listening and learning about people.
How are your questioning skills? Honestly, how many people do you know that have a list of 5-7 killer, insightful questions? You know, the ones that make people really think and ignite some sort of memorable conversation.
The right question in an interview, in a group setting, or even on a date can spur the most interesting heart felt dialogues… or can lead you down a how’s the weather type conversation as well. You’re in complete control of that.
Prep a list of meaningful, thoughtful questions. Instead of “what do you do”, ask “do you love what you do” or “what’s the story of how you got there?”
If you’re not having the types of conversations you want, I’ll tell you whose fault that is (as I kindly, and every so sweetly, point my finger in your direction).
Listen to peoples answers. Do not jump ahead and start thinking about how you’re going to respond, just give them the space to talk and allow yourself the opportunity to really hear what someone is saying.
And for you single daters out there, who hate first dates… here is a list of questions that actually make first dates enjoyable (or telling at least).
TIP #3: Perfect the Great Goodbye
A goodbye should be filled with acknowledgment and intent to go deeper.
Remind them you were listening. Perhaps a simple nod to the conversation you just had “I loved chatting about x” or “Good luck with x”.
THEN KEEP GOING!!
If you stop there, you are missing a HUGE opportunity.
I know, because I’ve been on both sides. Kicking myself as I watch a colleague develop a relationship with my dream mentor, as well as hearing of colleagues who are soooo envious about the relationship I’ve developed with people way out of my league.
My secret… coffee.
Make a commitment to ALWAYS suggest coffee, and ask for their contact info.
Worst case they say no… you will survive. Best case, they could be your next connection to a dream project, job, or person you are dying to meet.
Be brave in those small moments.
Networking is about connecting new humans, opening new doors, and also finding out how you can help people.
The next time you walk into a big room of strangers remember to let go of expectations – and just be there in the moment, human to human, and connect.
Now – I’d LOVE to hear from you.
How do you make networking meaningful?
IMAGE CREDIT: project48quilt.com