You know our type. We’re the kind of people who for whatever reason don’t really know how to start up a conversation. We’d rather hide under the table than start chatting with an unknown person or stay at home watching reruns than go to a party. We’re your awkward cousin or the kid that sat behind you in biology. Is there networking hope for us? There is hope and you will find comfort in knowing (for all of us procedural nerds) that it can be a process you can quickly and painlessly use.
Like many things in my life, I’ve had to figure this out on my own but have followed it up with study. I know some people find it hard to believe that I am introverted since I have been known to speak to a crowd of a 1000 people but it’s true. It’s easier for me to do public speaking than make small talk. The difference is the type of talk and the setting for when that talking takes place. As a speaker, I develop and deliver content with a specific goal in mind. It has a goal and a destination. I can research the topic and get prepared. For networking all of that is out the door, you’re left by yourself to say something interesting. Ygads! The difference is huge. Here are the things I have learned about networking which really helps:
What is the purpose of networking?
In the context of a job search, your network will be the number one way you will find a job. If you’ve heard of the hidden job market, it’s the 80% of the jobs businesses are hiring for but never get posted. The only way you’ll find out about them is if you connect with enough people that know what and how to connect you.
Outside of the job search you can think of your network as a vast web of information and connections. When you need a plumber a doctor or a restaurant, you call your network. In other words, for your entire life you develop and nurture your network. You learn as a small child that your network will share toys and sack lunches. We all have networks but we often times think of them as family, friends and work associates. Whatever you call them, you have developed enough of a relationship to call upon them for help and support throughout your life.
Who is your network?
I could write one sentence here and be 100% accurate. Your network is everyone you know. The obvious ones like I mentioned above but also clients, vendors, people you hire, the wait staff at Starbucks and the list goes on. I should also add that you know something about them. You certainly know limited things about them because of the place of business or setting but that is enough to get started.
$64,000 question: How do you develop a network and get past the social willy’s?
Think of networking as creating relationships with people. Aaaannnddd, how do you create relationships with people? By getting to know them. You ask them questions about themselves! This was something I knew but didn’t “know”. People think you’re a fabulous conversationalist if you ask questions about them. The more you ask other’s about what’s going on in their life, the more you learn and can relate to in the future.
Let me give you a personal example. When we got married my dad didn’t know but 4 people at the reception. Yet for months afterward, people would convey to me the fact that they had got to know my dad and thought he was great. Turns out, he would approach someone and ask them “How do you know Terry and Dorothy?” That was all it took for him to enter in to other people’s lives. He asked these people about their life and found a mutual association to do it. Guess what I do at wedding receptions and parties now? I’m never at a loss of an opening line. I’ve now expanded to questions like: how long have you been a part of this group? What compelled you to join this group?
This means you don’t have to be a great conversationalist in the sense that you don’t really have to think of thought provoking banter. This isn’t about you; it’s about the other person. You simply need to ask good questions that are open ended. If you’re getting ready to go to an event, consider creating a list of questions associated with that event. If you can have some questions related to a person of mutual association that always works like my examples above. You can also ask about the event or group or business that is involved. It’s that simple. I wish someone would have told me that about X years ago.
- Think of your network in three layers. The first layer is people you know well, have a developed relationship and know details about. The second layer is people you know fairly well in that you know some details about them and periodically associate with them. The third layer is people you know only superficially. Your goal is to move a few more people into the first layer and a bunch into the second layer. I’ll give you some ideas on how to do that.
- When you go to an event and start introducing yourself to people concentrate on quality associations. You don’t need to “work the room”. If you can walk away from a room of strangers and feel like you have connected really well with a 3 or 4 people, then call your networking a success.
- If you’re like me, you need to make notes to remember some information about the people you’re meeting. Obviously, for a network to work you need contact information but make notes on key things you’ve learned about your new contacts. This will help you move the relationship forward if you’ve made them important enough to remember information about them.
- The first rule of any relationship is to give to it. You must give your time and attention. The simplest way is email. When I email, I often times simply ask about something going on with them. I’m also constantly thinking of things I can share like links, websites, and articles or connecting them with someone they might find valuable. You can’t tap into relationships without demonstrating your goodwill first. Following this process will not only move people into top two layers, it will enrich your life.
Your network is a living, breathing, dynamic organism. People will come in and go out of your network your whole life. The sooner you realize how easy it can be to develop a network the sooner you can breathe a sigh of relief about the next event you go to. See? That wasn’t so hard was it?
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