I love networking, even though sometimes I sit in the car beforehand and have to give myself a pep talk before I enter the room.
(And sometimes I turn around and go home). It’s not easy to put yourself out there … or to stand alone at an event, which will happen at some point as you build your career.
I have tried to cultivate some best practices to make networking easier. I like to remember that there was a time before I knew my best friends; at some point I met them. Maybe there is someone in this room full of people who could be equally important in your life. A roomful of diamonds, and it’s the privilege of a lifetime to get to meet them. That helps me to see potential and want to connect when I network.
Make it easy
Re-framing these events as a privilege and opportunity has been helpful. It helps to know that everyone else feels insecure at them too, so you can be the person to make it easier for someone else.
Asking open-ended questions is important, because it allows the person you’re speaking with to control the speed and depth of the conversation. This keeps the flow within the comfort zone and sets the boundaries for what you can discuss without either of you feeling uncomfortable.
I usually keep a few in my back pocket, in case there’s an awkward pause – “what awesome thing are you working on?” “what surprised you in the news lately?” “what are you reading?” “what are you most looking forward to?” “what’s your sign?” (kidding about that one, but sometimes I get desperate!)
Also, never try to sell something at a networking event. Nothing makes people feel more uncomfortable than being pitched at. Put the elevator pitch away and be a human first. And that means that you have to do the much harder work of being someone worth knowing.
You have to cultivate your own interests and passions; be truly curious about this life and the people around you. It’s not easy to cultivate authenticity. Emotional intelligence takes work and practice and subtlety.
Those folks who are selling and pitching at networking events are missing the mark, because people do business with those that they know, like and trust. The first step is being willing to get to know someone at a human level.
Finally, the last piece is “don’t be an asshole.” Address everyone as though you’re speaking to the CEO – with dignity and respect.
This is a true test of character. Are you decent to everyone, even if no one is looking, or are you using people to get ahead? If you’re using people, they will sense it … and it won’t work in the long run.
Remember that it’s not a competition or a zero-sum game. We can find ways to support and collaborate that are beneficial for us all and add value to our lives and economies.
I don’t lose if you win. I have a poster of the Holstee Manifesto at home and one line is “Life is about the people you meet and the things you create with them. Go out and start creating.”
Networking is one way to have a whole room of people with whom you might create something incredible.
Anne Parmer is the community and engagement lead for Andculture in Harrisburg. She earned her bachelor’s degree in English and music from Lebanon Valley College and went on to complete an MBA. She has spent more than a decade advising startups, planning national conferences, fundraising and coordinating countless projects. Anne connects passionate, curious, strategic people together on projects that matter.