Hear the word ‘Networking’ and you may experience a sense of dread and even loathing! You know it’s good for your career and it forces you out of your comfort zone, but you still resist! The image of being stuck in a room full of people you don’t know, having to sell yourself in some way, can strike fear into many a heart! And I have to confess, up to a year ago, I felt the same way. I dreaded the seemingly clique groups and, having to make small talk felt excruciating. However, I now find myself unexpectedly co-running a networking group for small businesses, which I absolutely love!
The group is going from strength to strength, and, the 2 fabulous women I run it with and I, work hard to make it a relaxed and enjoyable experience. We create a really welcoming vibe, and make sure no one is left on their own. We have activities and speakers to take the pressure off the ‘small talk’ element, but also make room for the valuable connections to be made. The experience of crafting our network culture has made me reflect on what you can do to make your own networking experience a more positive one.
Here’s some tips to start loving rather than hating networking:
Why are you networking?
Being clear about why you are networking can help you get more out of it, and also make it more meaningful. Check if any of these resonate:
- You want to learn more about your industry – Networks often have interesting speakers on current topics or trends. It’s an easy way to stay up to date or get ideas.
- You want to increase your contacts to develop your career or to do your job better – Networking events are all about making connections. Often you can research who is going in advance, and people are also often willing to introduce you to colleagues or their contacts. Don’t forget your business cards, if relevant, and to follow up on LinkedIn.
- You need to be seen – Raising your profile can be essential if you’re thinking of a move, looking for a mentor or establishing yourself in your field. Be strategic about connecting with contacts who can offer speaking opportunities, guest blogging or are movers and shakers in your industry. Remember the rule of reciprocity and consider how you can help them first.
- You are curious – Networking can be really interesting, after all they are full of people with interesting stories and journeys. Approaching your networking with an air of curiosity can be empowering. It takes the focus off you and allows you to develop deeper more meaningful connections.
Which group is best?
There are many different networking groups or meetups you can join. Try out a few before you commit. They will all be different in format, rules and culture so find one that suits you and where you feel most authentic.
The environment you network in is important, so be aware of how relaxed you feel, how you’re welcomed, topics discussed, openness of the groups to newcomers, surroundings, and whether it will help you achieve what you want from networking.
Have strategies for the bits you hate
Knowing you can cope with the bits of networking you find most challenging will help you feel confident.
- Arriving and knowing no one! – Check the guest list before you come and identify someone you want to talk to, and ask the host to introduce you. Or approach a small group and ask if you can join them as you’re new. Be proactive – what’s the worst that could happen?
- Finding yourself with no one to talk to – People do circulate and you could find that suddenly you are alone. You could look out for someone else who is standing alone and make the first move to introduce yourself – they will be very grateful to you! Or head to the refreshments for a refill and strike up a conversation over the biscuits.
- Getting stuck with the network bore! – There are some people who don’t pick up on social cues and dominate the conversation or can talk at length on subjects like GDPR. Let’s face it most people will glaze over! Don’t get stuck, thank them for the chat, explain you want to meet as many people as possible today and offer to introduce them to someone else. Then move on.
- You hate small talk – Research some interesting topics before the event that are relevant to your co-networkees. Move the conversation on from the weather to something more meaty as soon as the opportunity presents itself.
For every meeting set yourself a mini goal to stay motivated and to feel a sense of achievement. It could be a certain number of people that you want to talk to, or even volunteering to deliver a talk on a particular topic at a future meeting. Who knows you may end up co-running the network, just like me!
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