Tips from a Reluctant Networker
Tales of a Reluctant Networker
Say the word ‘networking’ and you are likely to get many different reactions, but they usually fall into the category of ‘lit-up eyes, smiles, faces filled with hope and opportunity and excitement’ or you’ll observe ‘eye-rolls, sighs, shoulders drooping, despondent looks and fear’. To say that I fall into the latter category would be an understatement. I am Queen Eye-Roll, frolicking in a pool of cynicism, dread and distress. The desire to stamp my feet if said stamping wouldn’t ruin my precious shoes, is high. I am that person who signs up for these things with all those attributes, but resigned to my fate. And I used to then hide in the loos. Yup, the Queen of Eye-Roll could be renamed the Princess of Loos.
The inner turmoil comes from having to speak to a bunch of strangers and not know how to do this with class and aplomb. Do you just walk up to any random person and chat? What happens when everyone is in a group already, does one interrupt? What if the person is talking at and selling at you and you can’t get a word in edgewise? What if the person is so dull that sticking those cocktail sticks in your eyes seems preferable? Or what about the lech (there is always one - he failed biology at school and he continues to believe that your eyes are closer to your chest)? Or what about if everyone in that room seems to be cleverer and more accomplished than you are?
These are all thoughts and feelings that most people have. Although very real and often paralyzing, you have to realize that most people have them, and more often than not, these fears are greater than the reality.
Some tips for networking
- Get Over Yourself and Your Ego
I had to. I had to give myself a really good talking to and even a metaphorical slap or three. The reality is that whilst no one is there to be hostile, no one really cares about you. By that I mean that everyone there has their own agenda so they won’t be looking out for you and your flaws. The only person doing that is you and your ego. As long as you treat everyone there with respect and professionally, you will get along fine. You don’t need to be someone different from who you are. Just be the best version of yourself and talk to others like a human being, show interest in them, and hopefully they will show interest in you. If not, move on. Or even if they do, move on after you’ve had a long enough conversation. No one wants to be that leech.
- Why Network?
Before you go, think about why you want to network and what you would like to achieve. If you are thinking about getting a new job, think what new skills might benefit you and who might help with that journey & process. It will also help you network and converse better once you know what your purpose is for being there. For example, if you are an engineer wanting to climb up the ladder in that world. It would help to meet other engineers outside of your firm. Are there industry events? Or perhaps go to an event to meet people within the creative industry to help with perspective or someone with more of a business focus to help you think outside your normal box.
- Smart Networking
Following on from the above point, be open and yet selective about the events you attend. It’s good to try different events such as size, industry, format and even times of day. For example anecdotally, evening events tend to attract less women because they often have to go home to the children (I’ll leave the debate on this stat for another time) but they are likely to also attract people from more creative industries.
Some people love networking and chatting to new people. Larger events might work really well for you. For those of you who are happier in smaller groups, pick events with meals included for example, or smaller drinks events where it can be less intimidating.
The more selective you are, the more you will get out of each event.
- Research – Have a Plan
Before you go, do some research on the event, the organisers, the speakers, the attendees. The more you know about it, the better prepared you will be for conversations and what you would like to get out of it. However, be fluid with the plan, after all you can’t predict how the event will go.
- Set Goals
Ask yourself what you would like to achieve at the event and set some objectives around it. If it is a more general affair, do something simple like promise yourself to have good quality conversations with at least 7 people (5 might be your objective but add two for the challenge!). If it is to speak to the speaker who is very popular, work out the best time and way to speak with said person.
- Build Relationships
Nothing worse than the hard sell where someone talks at you with little to no interest in you, ie you are being treated as a commodity. Don’t be that person. Listen to the other person. Hear what they are saying. Be curious and ask questions. Build a rapport and a relationship. This is far more lasting for you and your business/career. Learn something about them. Leave them something interesting about you to remember you by and always follow up with an email, call and possibly a coffee date in the not so distant future.
- Bring a Wingperson?
For some, this is an excellent idea for it’s easier with two of you and you will approach things differently and ‘cross-benefit’ with introductions and conversations. However, if you know that you might end up wholly relying on them to open up conversations, maybe it’s best that you don’t.
These are some of my tips for helping me through the networking process. I’ve had to give up (albeit reluctantly) by Princess of the Loos title. I still don’t love networking but I find myself being much better about attending them, to the point of enjoying them. For me, the biggest differentiators were getting over myself and attending events that I actually want to go to, rather than to ones where I felt I should go.
If you have any questions or anything to add, I’d love to hear from you! Good luck!
Karen Kwong is a highly experienced executive & business coach who has worked with start-ups and social enterprises through to large established corporates (including FTSE100 companies) across a number of industries including financial services, engineering, retail and media & communications. She also advises boards on their dynamics. Added to this, she spent almost twenty years working at a senior level in fund management. She also has a Masters in Organisational Psychology. For more please see here or contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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