If you’ve got this down to a fine art, and/or it’s something that you do naturally, and you love the opportunity and excitement that networking can bring, you may not need to read this, because you already include this naturally in the way you live and run your life.
If you’re not sure however how to dip your toe into the water of networking but you know that you do need to start and would like to hear some thoughts, I hope this can provide some helpful insights.
Many of us network regularly – we make it part of how we build and develop our careers. Perhaps because of influences along our journey. Or at school we learned that when we choose a career path and intentionally interact with different people to discover alternate approaches and perspectives it helps inform how we make decisions and where we will be most happy spending our time.
Recently, when I had to ‘dust off’ and energize my contacts and review the network I had built. I was ready to unleash myself into the world of connecting and being out of my comfort zone.
Turned out I had a little work to do!
Imagine my situation: being at a downtown event, adrift in a sea of over 500 people, where I knew nobody. The subject matter and the purpose of the event really interested me, however the networking reception was something I hadn’t bargained for. I knew nobody going in to the room, there was 30 minutes before the event would start and participants would be asked to take our seats. What to do now? Well, like everything in life, we learn from our experiences and emerge stronger for them.
That, and other situations that I deliberately placed myself in or found myself in during those following months, got me laser-focused on becoming more comfortable with networking.
I was talking recently with a close friend of mine about what I would describe as the psychology of networking.
Because essentially, when we engage in this activity, we are technically engaging in a socioeconomic business activity. We meet to form business relationships and aim to recognize, create, or act upon opportunities. We are also sharing information and seeking potential partners for various ventures. And to do this requires a level of vulnerability (something I really enjoy writing about, and in fact count among my strengths).
The challenge, though, comes with what we think about vulnerability and how we worry about being perceived when we are being vulnerable. Some of us see it as being in a less powerful position than others and believe that we’ll be looked down upon. Others feel that asking for help is not something they have ever done or will ever do. Perhaps our upbringing or childhood or life experiences have influenced that perspective. And for others, it’s uncomfortable to be beholden, to ask for a helping hand. And yet, being bold and strong and acknowledging who you are and what you need can often elicit a very positive reaction that we would least expect.
Of course, we can be thankful that we live in a great city, where helping others, referring them to people we know and trust is in our nature, is a part of our culture, and always has been.
Leaning in to the vulnerability and embracing humility can be a strength that knows no bounds!
I learned some things through my networking journey – these may resonate:
- Buddy-up if you are not comfortable being on your own. I enrolled the support of a friend to go to events and sessions. We strategized on how to tackle the room – together, or separately – as well as sharing learning and contacts. That way, we could also help each other.
- Choose your events with care. I sought out events of interest that helped me develop professionally and personally, and by contrast took me way outside of my comfort zone and into learning and professional development.
- Lost for words? The art of joining a conversation and find some common ground was really important for me to master. Listening to the group conversation and researching the audience was helpful in doing this.
- Discussion. I was ready to have a conversation, why I was interested in the subject or the event, the experience I had, the profession I am in. I talked about what I had to offer, which generated good dialogue and helped form relationships and identify opportunities.
- First meeting with a new contact. I had a goal, researched my subject, made sure I could identify some commonality, however tenuous, for the conversation.
- Ask for recommendations – I chose to be bold! In every meeting I have, there is the opportunity to open up dialogue or curiosity about what you do, who you both know, who might be someone new that could be beneficial for you to talk to.
- Who you choose to proactively connect with is important. Being mindful to connect with decision-makers, people who could help me get closer to my goal was critical and guided my efforts. Like any other investment, I invest my time wisely to get the maximum yield from the effort I put in.
- Volunteering with a NFP or society or professional association is a great idea. I expanded my network, and uncovered all sorts of leads.
- Re-energize your network. Some might think this should go first. I don’t happen to think so, particularly if you are new to the world of networking. Some of us find that we need some time to re-tool, reflect and even recover. Depending on your circumstances, you may need to dig into your network fast and furious, and leverage opportunity. Whatever the circumstances, it’s wise to self-assess first and determine if you’re in the right frame of mind to dig in and have conversations.
You’re moving to being terrific when you hear the word networking and look forward to the opportunity. When you have your story straight for the meeting about who you are, what you do and how you contribute. When you are not the shrinking flower in a group of people, and you are someone who is open to the possibilities of connection, and not looking for someone to give you something. When you relish the opportunity to walk into a new environment or meet a new person, and you are confident that you can have a conversation on a business level with them and feel on an equal footing.
Terrific is definitely achievable, and will look a little different for each of us. And it’s so satisfying and developmental when you get there!
Best wishes to all you potential networkers – go get ‘em!
This was written for Cenera by Lisa Rothwell.
Lisa is a Senior HR Professional, Business Partner and an eager & enthusiastic writer, who has herself experienced the recent economic downturn in Calgary. She finds that writing and sharing her observations and experience is a sure-fire way to encourage people to help each other, rather than compete. Whatever the right outcome is for each of us, the growth we demonstrate as we get through this and out the other end has to be the true measure of success.