I do not love networking. Yes, you read that right. It may seem unusual coming from a person who has been called one of the most successful networking coaches in Silicon Valley. I doubt I’m alone – if you are on the team of people who find networking events to simply be a necessary evil, you’ve come to the right place.
For many people, our feelings around networking can be likened to our feelings about dental flossing. If you’re a service provider, a freelancer, or anyone in a referral-based business, you know you should network because it’s likely to yield good results. Like flossing, it’s one of those things that you just need to do, but it still feels uncomfortable.
Many people share this uneasiness around networking. It can feel uneasy and artificial which can cause a sense of dread when it comes time to network.
Why Networking Makes Us Uneasy
Ultimately, networking is viewed by many as going out to make connections that will be beneficial to them, which has an opportunistic undertone. This interpretation, spits right in the face of those who feel they were born to serve. It transforms into something false, self-serving and unappealing.
The second pain point is among people who characterize themselves as introverts. There is this fallacy that introverts prefer sitting in a room alone with the curtains drawn, when in reality they simply struggle with going out to meet new people for the purpose of selling themselves.
The interesting thing is that some very successful people are introverts. Marissa Meyer, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates are all self-proclaimed introverts. The idea of going to an event with hundreds of faces they don’t know, walking up to strangers and striking up a conversation probably doesn’t register on the fun meter for them.*
You have to shift your mindset, teach yourself to feel great about networking and get yourself to believe it. Sounds like a severe case of “easier said than done,” but there are simple steps that you can take to make this happen,
Instead of focusing on others helping you, focus on helping others. Set your goal to find at least five people that you can help. You have now switched the purpose from seeking opportunities to genuinely helping the people that you meet. Setting this goal for yourself might change your attitude. Dare I say, you may even get excited!
I can smell your skepticism from here, but you’re going to have to trust me on this one. A networking event could even become a bit of a game for you. If you feel like you made a difference, the event will be an enjoyable one. If you walk in begrudgingly dragging your feet, you’re almost guaranteed to walk out with a negative mindset and the cycle will repeat.
If you’re successful at it, you may feel rewarded from just one experience of being able to help a few people. In fact, I predict that if you do this at five events and you help many different people in a meaningful way, I wouldn’t be surprised if you became hooked. You might become somebody who enjoys networking. I have seen it work many times. At a minimum, you won’t mind these events as much anymore.
Walking Through It
Step One: Put a few networking events on your calendar.
Step Two: Take the pressure off starting conversations.
- Adhere to this rule with reckless abandon: when you make eye contact or you see somebody that you could talk to, you must approach them within 5-10 seconds.
Step Three: Use questions that allow you to see if there are ways you can help.
- Ask what the person is working on. If they respond with a simple job title, deepen the conversation by saying that you really want to know what projects they’re working on and what problems they are trying to solve.
- As you listen to their challenges, I wouldn’t be surprised if you come up with ways you can help, which can come in many forms.
- Best practices you’re familiar with
- Books or articles
- Introducing them to someone that could help more than you can.
- Repeat this with five people.
Step Four: Make sure you can reconnect with them. about.me’s brand new Intro app is a quick, easy way to share your email address and about.me page while you’re still face-to-face. Plus, it saves everyone you share your page with so you have a reminder to you of who you met and where.
Step Five: Make sure you follow through: Send a follow up email. If you helped them, ask if there are any other ways you can help.
*If you consider yourself an introvert, Susan Cain has written an awesome book that you might find valuable: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.