MT Expert's Ten Top Tips: Networking for people who hate networking

The ability to mingle doesn't come naturally to us all. Here's how to muddle through...

by MT Staff
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013

Why do so many of us hate networking? It has a reputation as a manipulative, self-serving, sleazy endeavour involving hard-sells and soft cheese. Yet real networking builds lasting, mutually beneficial relationships, one person at a time. Nothing cheesy about that...  People who hate networking tend to believe they are bad networkers. But help is at hand in the form of the following ten stellar tips, by Devora Zack, author of a new book on the subject.

1. Play your strengths: Don’t fight against your naturally loveable disposition. Inauthentic behaviour makes networking backfire, causing you to blow out faster than a sixteen-wheeler on hot summer asphalt. Transform presumed networking liabilities into assets. Don’t blab, instead ask thoughtful questions and really listen to the answers. Your popularity will soar and you never need to scrounge around for conversation starters again.     

2. Establish goals: Why are you attending an event? Set clear, measurable goals such as meeting two new people. Be realistic. The best goals are challenging yet achievable. What will make the event a success for you?

3. Volunteer: Arrange in advance to help out. Many networking-haters are most comfortable when in a designated, structured role. Working the event provides you with a specific reason to engage with others, rather than poking around for small talk.

4. Arrive early: It is better to enter a room with a few people than one with a crowd packed close together. Gatherings are cozier near the beginning and participants more accessible.

5. Be cool: Be positive, helpful, gracious and upbeat. Maintain eye contact and smile. It is impossible to predict who the ‘right people’ turn out to be, so decide whoever you are facing is the right person for you to be meeting at that moment.

6. Get in line: Lines provide a fine alternative to standing around alone. There are only two people nearby – the person behind and in front of you. Ask about work, origin of an interesting name, or what brought them to the event. Completing your time in-line provides a handy closer - exchange contact information and be on your way.

7. Write it down: Note pertinent facts on business cards of new acquaintances. Do not overestimate your future memory capacity. You can include details like:
Name, with pronunciation hints
Event location and date
Personal facts (family, birthday, interests . . . )
Brief conversation summary
Intended follow-up
Jotting notes also provides time away from continual interaction.

8. Do less: Prioritise your time, manage your energy. Shining bright at one event is smarter than struggling into every networking opportunity crossing your path. Grant yourself mini-recharge breaks at programmes. Head outside for a breather, step away to refresh, decompress on a brisk walk, or check messages. Let go of what you should do; free yourself up to what appeals. You will be more appealing to others in the process.

9. End gracefully: Never allow a conversation to fizzle out past its prime. You also want to avoid causing others to feel trapped talking with you. Try:
- May I have your card? It was great meeting you.
- Have you met [colleague passing by]?
- I’ve enjoyed our conversation. Thank you.
- I promised myself I’d circulate—I better walk around.
- I’m sure you want to talk with others; I won’t hold you up.
But a note of caution: If you claim to be headed somewhere, really go...

10. Follow up: The time you invest in networking goes swirling down the proverbial drain without follow up. Write a personal note within 48 hours, while you still remember each other. Be useful – include an article link, provide relevant information, or connect your new acquaintance with a valuable resource. Want to really stand out? Mail a handwritten note.

Network on your own terms. As a previous networking-hater myself, I know you can exceed your wildest networking expectations while having a great time in the process.

Devora Zack is author of Networking for People Who Hate Networking (Berrett-Koehler £14.99)  and president of Only Connect Consulting

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