Let’s play a word association game. I’m going to present a word, and you’re going to think of the first image that comes to mind. Ready?

Me: “Networking.”

You: “Disconnected people standing around a cattle call event, anxious over who they should talk to, upset they were pushed to come by a peer or manager, and glum that there isn’t anything better to eat than those bloody overcooked cocktail wieners.”

Well done, my friend! I’d say we’ve attended some of the same events.

But is that really what networking is — and does it have to be that way? No and No!

Networking doesn’t need to feel forced and it shouldn’t require you to pick up food with toothpicks.

In fact, networking happens every day, with every interaction! It happenswhen you engage colleagues from your own company, pass someone in hall, share a moment with someone as you fill your coffee, connect with someone at a holiday party, strike up a conversation on an airplane, or speak to someone at your child’s soccer game.

NETWORKING SOMETIMES GETS A BUM RAP BECAUSE IT CAN BE SEEN AS SMARMY OR DISINGENUOUS. BUT, AT ITS CORE, NETWORKING IS SIMPLY FOOD FOR THE HUMAN SPIRIT!

The process of networking is simple:

  1.  Identify a constituency/target audience
  2.  Engage
  3. Stay connected

And to remain positive about “networking opportunities,” you might enter the process with the goal of trying to help one person, rather than looking for the one person who can help you.

Novel idea, right?

Because we represent ourselves and our firms in every interaction, we want to do our best– but how best to do that? Author Susan RoAne (the author of How to Work a Room) offers tips for making conversation to ease the process.

As simple as the process is, you must commit to doing it, and that means spending time planning, researching, executing, and managing the networking process.

The “fuel” that powers the process of networking is the exchange of information. Without it, you and the people you interact with will be unable to stay connected and make downstream connections between–and on behalf of–one another. Be curious and ask questions with the intent of learning.

WHAT KIND OF INFORMATION IS BEST EXCHANGED IN BUSINESS NETWORKING?

It will be both business and appropriate personal information. The business information you’ll exchange is pretty straightforward– usually the talk tracks shared during your elevator speech with a story added to provide context for the listener. I am a big believer in stories, as they are a terrific way to differentiate oneself from common business descriptions. There might be opportunities for you to share personal information too– like where you live, where you grew up, what schools you attended, past work experiences, interests, hobbies, and philanthropic interests.

When we discover common ground through the exchange of common personal information, several things happen. The exchange suddenly becomes humanized. The dialogue becomes warm, and both parties become more comfortable. This allows us to more easily navigate into a business-related conversation, without it feeling forced or like you’re “selling.” The process and the results can be very powerful!

TAKEAWAY

Now that you know what networking is, the importance of doing it, and the way to do it with ease, it’s time to get out there! Make time to complete your relationship-building tasks. Step outside of your comfort zone by pushing yourself to go to that event you otherwise wouldn’t have attended. Have that one extra conversation. Ask those extra questions that might surface personal nuggets of information that could create common ground. Adopting the attitudes and behaviors of savvy networkers could become a game-changer for you and your firm!

Read Networking, Part 2 >