How To Network On Your Own Terms & Connect Authentically
How women in business network
Is ‘networking’ one of those gruesome corporate trigger words which has you sprinting in the opposite direction? I’m not surprised. Industry meet-ups and corporate events are synonymous with social shudder-fodder, with more awkward moments than The Office.
The musty coffee breath of worn-out office workers putting in ‘face time’. The sweaty hand shakes. The fear of being Nelly-No-Friends in the corner: being too junior to be interesting or being too senior and wasting precious time. Not forgetting the impenetrable boys club talking shop in the corner. There’s no wonder few people actually enjoy networking.
Yet whether we like it or not, networking is a necessary evil to carving out a successful career: there is no doubt that building your network creates opportunity. For all its social awkwardness, smart networking offers a constructive space to meet your contemporaries, to learn from and bond with others in your industry and to compare notes: “you’re being paid how much?!”
Even with my self-confessed counter corporate-culture tendencies (and severe aversion to smalltalk), I’ve attended my fair share of networking events during my *illustrious* media career. Despite first fears, I haven’t had to succumb to suits, boots and business cards to make it work for me.
Here’s how I did it.
Don’t accept the invitation if it won’t add value
Three weeks ago you were more than happy to RSVP to Big Co’s drinks reception. Now, the afternoon of, you’re really not up for it: you have no idea who is going or what it’s even for. Sound familiar? Rushing to an event under these circumstances will make you feel stressed, self-conscious and you won’t be your amazing engaging self.
So the next time you receive an invitation to an event, be discerning and do your homework: think about why you’re going and what you want to get out of it by answering these questions:
Are you happy in your current role?
If your answer is ‘yes’, a networking event can be a place to gather wisdom from others in your field, meet potential mentors or someone whose work you admire and re-energise your day-to-day motivation. Plus a positive exchange is a great way to create authentic connections with like-minded people in your industry.
Are you ready to move on?
A networking seminar with a theme or topical speaker can offer you inspiration about where to aim for next and how to make the break. Bring along your notebook and get your stream-of-consciousness-scribble on.
Then there’s the speaking to people bit. Before you go, jot down a brief convo starter which sums you up. It could be something like: ‘I’m a copywriter and I’d like to get into client management, do you have any advice?’ or ‘I’ve had experience in X, and I now want to apply it in Y, do you know anyone I could speak to?’
Getting clarity will help to focus your conversations with your fellow networkers and fuel a more constructive networking experience.
Before you go, find out who is attending the event, study their LinkedIn profiles and identify two or three people to connect with who could potentially assist with you career transition. When you arrive, make a beeline for them and try out your convo starter. Be prepared to share you views on recent industry events and news.
Do it differently
If traditional networking doesn’t appeal, find an alternative. My favourite was a creative speed-networking night at a local arts centre. Being confined to three minutes helped us get to the point faster, while the ‘speed-dating’ overtones kiboshed awkwardness.
Connect, don’t network
If you’re not maximising your existing connections, networking to make new ones is a right royal waste of time.
So, instead of going to more events why not ask existing connections, likeminded friends in your biz or friendly colleagues to a pub quiz, dinner, coffee or whatever floats. Get them to bring along a plus one from your shared interest area or sector. This way you will harness your people power with an event on your own terms and make more meaningful connections.
Keep calm and forget labels
To some, networking is the schmoozing art to master; to others, it’s a creepy byword for mercenary socialising – no wonder it’s a daunting prospect. But it doesn’t have to be. At its barest and best all networking is, is seeking out an engaging conversation. It really doesn’t need to get any more complicated than that. When you start to see it like this, it can be a bit of a hoot.
How do you find traditional networking events cringe-worthy? Share your horror stories in the comments below. Then head over here to chat with me, other business women and female entrepreneurs in the Iris Lillian Squad about how we make networking work for us.
Daisy lives in Bristol UK where she writes for themessyrunner.com, runs and hunts live music shows and pizza. She shares a teal 18th century flat with a kitten called Bees and Harry who has Robert Plant hair.
How women in business network
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