The fine art of networking requires a little finesse and a lot of chutzpah. For those lacking both, bantering with strangers and collecting business cards may sound as appealing as yanking your toenails out with a tweezer.
But whether you're slightly socially awkward or downright misanthropic, making connections behooves you — and your career.
“Our society is interdependent. Not one of us is going to be successful alone. We need each other for information, support, ideas — we need to have a safety net, and that’s based upon the network of people you have,” says Susan RoAne, better known as "The Mingling Maven," a keynote speaker and the author of "How To Work a Room." Continues RoAne, "If you don’t have a network of people who’d want to refer business to you, your business is not going to grow, your practice won’t grow, your art won’t sell."
For those who feel like crawling into their shells at the mere mention of schmoozing, here are a few tips for appoaching networking with confidence and ease.
Be a giver
Networking can feel awkward because “there’s an undertone of an agenda," says Ashley Stahl, a career coach who helps young adults find their dream jobs. "A lot of people feel this tug and pull between getting something out of it [networking] for their career, and trying to be authentic. Who wants to be a taker?” continues Stahl. Instead of focusing on what others can do for you, Stahl suggests entering a room with a "service consciousness" and the intention of helping other people. This simple shift in mindset can make you less self- conscious — and more appealing to others.
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Adjust your effort — and your attitude
Stepping outside your comfort zone isn't going to be a cakewalk, but it doesn't have to be torture, either.
“If you come in thinking 'I hate networking,' what you project is a sour attitude, so who’s going to really want to talk to you?" says RoAne.
Making up your mind to make an effort can transform your overall networking experience, suggests Stahl. “If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, a great way start is to give yourself a quota of how many people you’re going to build a relationship with." If you meet your quota, consider that a win.
Practice your serve, then follow through
RoAne notes that building relationships is really two separate skills: “One is the mixing and mingling and socializing, or working a room. The second is networking. Some people are great at working a room, and they have no follow-up." To up your mingling game, continues RoAne, “prepare your own introduction of seven to nine seconds linked to the specific event you’re going to. Give not your title, but the benefit of what you do." RoAne's benefit? She tells others she helps people become mingling mavens.
Next, follow through. After meeting someone, “you always want to send them a nice-to-meet-you email,” says Stahl. “There’s something special about reaffirming that you met, and letting them know you remember something personal about them.” Felt a strong connection with someone? Don't hesitate to take it offline and set up a coffee meeting, says Stahl.
Think of networking as a way of life
The most effective networkers tend not to draw lines between "networking" and "real life, says Stahl, but rather view connecting with others "as not limiting to an event space, but as an opportunity to have conversations that they should be having at all time.”
Stahl recalls the time she ended up speaking to a limo driver at a party in Washington D.C., and over the course of their conversation realized he was the driver for the Clintons. The experience was an eye-opener, she says, because it speaks to the importance of remaining open, modest and treating networking as an approach to life, not just an isolated skill. Says Stahl, “Really building deep, professional relationships brings me a lot of joy.”