Image courtesy of Tess Robinson/Smack Bang Designs
Networking events are as awkward as a pig in rollerskates. More often than not, these gawky gatherings are a hotbed of cold cabanossi, contrived conversation and well-rehearsed elevator pitches. Whenever I get invited to accompany someone to a networking event, a small part of me dies on the inside. Although I understand the value of these events and their place in the business world, I can’t help but feel there is a better way to connect with movers and shakers that doesn’t involve moving and shaking myself into pronounced discomfort.
Of course, there’s always the off-chance that you actually enjoy wearing a HELLO MY NAME IS sticky name tag, shaking the hands of super-smiley strangers and increasing your collection of glossy business cards. That’s totally fine if that’s your jam, but if the thought of a schmoozy event makes your face unconsciously contort, here’s a list of the best ways to network without actually ‘networking’…
#1. Don’t think of your network as a network.
I don’t have a network, I have friends. And I’m 100% committed to this.
The thing about ‘networking’ (blurgh!) that really grinds my gears, is the narcissistic vibe underpinning it, that we’re just going to get to know people because of what we can get out of each other. Not only is that completely shallow and icky, it really doesn’t pay dividends.
Realistically, who wants to get to know someone else just because of what can be extracted from them? At the end of the day, how motivated are they really going to be to help each other out when the inevitable situation calls for it?
Don’t think of your network as a network – rather, find people who you actually like and admire. Make investments in these relationships, and for the love of all things ‘high EQ’ and sensible, be natural and organic in your transactions with these people. When you genuinely like people, you actually want to help them out. The natural progression is that a mutually beneficial, enjoyable relationship develops, and before you can say ‘laminated lanyard’, you’ll have a healthy circle of incredible people surrounding you. Lucky you! Lucky them!
#2. Be nice to people.
The amazing connections and support base that I have been privileged to build over the years is a by-product of a conscious effort to foster honest and real relationships. No networking event in any naff fluorescently-lit hotel ballroom will satiate a curiosity to peel back the flaky outer onion layer and delve deeper to uncover motivations, dreams, worldviews and values. Being nice though, showing interest and being authentic, that is an endearing quality.
Consider some of the people you admire for building robust, fruitful relationships in their profession. How do they interact? What is that electric x-factor that appeals to their extensive circles? No doubt they are the ones who show such enthusiasm and interest in others that it’s as though they’re interacting with close family or friends. The fluidity with which these social superstars create new relationships is something to behold, and they can make it all happen without stepping one foot inside an event featuring cheap wine in plastic cups.
#3. Get social on social media.
People often forget that social media is, in fact, social. I’ve found social media one of the best ways to meet like-minded and real, down-to-earth contacts. While most people are open to new connections and receiving messages from people we’ve never met before, there is a fine line between reaching out, and stalking. The goal is to make a genuine connection from one human being to another without feeling contrived, desperate or disingenuous.
At networking events it can be incredibly difficult to come across authentically, within the limitations of the context you’re in and the subsequent inferences. On social media, however, there is a really easy and comfortable opportunity to get to know about someone’s passions, style, interests and general vibe. It’s a no-brainer avenue to developing some potentially invaluable partnerships!
#4. Send a little somethin’.
After meeting someone you’ve really connected with, it’s always a nice gesture to send them a little something. Whether it’s something useful, entertaining or a wee bit personal, pop a goody in the post or across cyberspace that will benefit that person. It is important to ensure the first interaction gives the recipient a reason to interact with you again.
If you’re going to take the reasonably bold move of sending a gift, you may as well go the full hog and make it something worth receiving. Don’t be dull or dry – show them who you are! Make them laugh, smile, melt, think or feel. Not only will this brighten up their day, but it will showcase you as that likeable legend we all know you to be! And people love doing business with likeable legends.
#5. Build your own vibe
Your vibe is that thing that makes you, well, you! Find your vibe and proudly wear it on your sleeve.
Since building Smack Bang, I’ve found my vibe and have really narrowed its focus to what I want to be known for. It’s really not rocket science: as soon as I settled on who I am, who we are and what we are all about, we began to click with like-minded groovers who felt inclined toward the same passion and general outlook on life. These folk have become some of our most treasured and loyal comrades. There is intrigue in sending a clear, simple message about who you are, because you give people the opportunity to understand you quickly.
When you wear your heart on your sleeve, you make yourself vulnerable enough to endear and draw others into your world. This inevitably forms a connection, et voila! Build that vibe, and the results will follow.
#6. Host your own events
Who needs an excuse to amp the BBQ, top up the bubbly and invite a bunch of quality peeps around? Hosting your own events enables seamless interaction with the people you invited, and people you encouraged your people to invite. And their people, and so on. Your mates have mates and if you’re onto a good thing and have savvy discernment, an event with that calibre of people milling about with mulled ciders and Peking duck pancakes is formidable.
Have a brunch, a beach sport spectacular, game of lawn bowls or go all out on an evening cook-up. Simply envision what the average person deems ‘heaps of bloody fun’ and enable others to enjoy themselves profusely. You’ll be a sure thing to further deepen existing relationships, and most likely make some new interesting connections over a ridiculous game of backyard bocce.
#7. Share with your friends what you’re working on
Confiding in your wolf pack on some of the details of the job is therapeutic, healthy and curbs any scary dips towards insanity. Close buddies are the people who objectively listen to your woes while providing encouragingly subjective feedback in your favour. Perfect!
Your friends love you, so use and abuse them as an invaluable springboard for ideas, possibilities and opportunities. Your closest pals have contacts and relationships of their own, so there is no reason not to be investing in a safe haven for dreaming big where the only limit is the sky. Your friends know you, more intimately than you might even care to concede, so their input and word of recommendation is all the more profound. And just as your friends put themselves out there to recommend you in the big wide world, you’ll surely do the same, because your friends are not only the classiest on the dance floor, but they’re skilled, talented and resourceful. You chose well!
8. Make a habit of hooking people up.
Playing matchmaker doesn’t have to resemble Will Smith’s character in Hitch (although, it wouldn’t hurt). Make a habit of being generous with your social aptitude magic, pairing up professionals and skilled peeps you know to be a sure thing and casting the wheels in motion for exciting new relationships to develop. Be organised with passing on valuable content (and follow up), and always keep your eyes and ears open to being a star connector. Share valuable content online with your circles, promote dialogue that inevitably leads to connection and conversation, go out on a limb for your excellent graphic designer friend and put their name forward to that agency director you’ve come to know and respect. Making it your business to help out others is… very good business!
As soon as you begin to play Connect Four with the people around you and the tools at your disposal, you’ll become a known ‘guru’ that people flock to for knowledge, information and advice. The key is to be generous with good intention; that just as you’d like to excel yourself, you are thrilled to see others thrive and succeed in their respective domains. Asking ‘How can I help you?’ rather than ‘What can I get out of you?’ will shift your entire perspective and gravitate you towards a habit of generosity that as a law, will always find its way back to reward you. Serving others in their endeavours builds your reputation while simultaneously building others’. Could there be a more valid, mutually beneficial incentive than that?!
#9. Create community.
Good news, introverts! This world and its vast and endless opportunities do not belong solely to the enthusiastic extroverts and their people-pleasing ways. Community is central to human nature: a biologically-geared desire to be involved in something that is more than ourselves. Phrases like ‘ice-breaker’, ‘mingle’ and ‘network gala’ are enough to send some of us milder, more reserved souls into a catatonic state, seeking a fool-proof hiding place and a full bottle of cab sauv. Heck, the most ostentatious party animals among us would gladly do the same given knowledge of the pain they’re set to endure all evening.
Here’s a hot tip: build a community of like-minded people, get together doing something you all enjoy, and brainstorm together. Share your ideas, resources, jokes, objections, uncertainties and that obligatory plate of food you swung by and picked up from your mum en route. You’ll be tickled pink at the outcome of these chilled sessions, and will readily promote them over hanging out business cards and slamming your elevator pitch down every Tom, Dick and Harry’s throat. Graphic? Sorry.