Does your idea of "networking" involve nursing a drink in the corner while more gregarious colleagues mix, mingle, wheel and deal? Whether you consider yourself an introvert, socially awkward, or just a networking newbie, fear not.
We all know people who can walk into a room full of total strangers and walk back out with a group of new best friends. They are the kings and queens of conferences and mixers. At every networking event, they make small talk and introductions look easy... Frankly, you would rather visit the dentist or file your taxes than approach a total stranger to promote yourself and your company.
In today's connected world, the ability to collaborate and innovate with others is not a nice skill to have – it's a must-have. No matter how experienced or talented you may be, you'll never be able to fully leverage your technical expertise if you are unable or unwilling to make mutually beneficial connections with other professionals.
Here are some key networking principles that will help you to network productively and (relatively) painlessly.
Look for positive partnerships.
Do not think of networking as schmoozing or something slightly sleazy (like selling a used car). Successful networking is about crafting win-win partnerships that bring value to both parties. It is never about trying to extract something from someone.
So approach networking with the fundamental idea that you are seeking to find out what people need or what problems they have that you can help them with. Right off the bat, this will help you shed your reluctance to approach others with your projects and ideas.
Look at it through a new lens.
For many people, networking has a place on the "dreaded chore" list right up there with cleaning out the gutters. Others erroneously think networking takes time away from the outputs associated with success in your profession. But it is important to see connecting with others as a positive activity that advances your success and that's even (gasp!) enjoyable.
Think of it this way: It is always a privilege and an honor to have the opportunity to discuss topics that you and the other party are passionate about. So take pleasure in the gift of meeting new people and seeing what can come from the new exchange.
Keep it positive.
When you are networking and you meet someone for the first time, discuss only positive topics and steer clear of potentially controversial topics like politics and religion. You want to make a good impression and ensure that your new contact equates you with happy thoughts.
RSVP with a "yes."
You might not always feel like attending mixers, receptions, and conferences. (Let's face it: Sometimes, Netflix and a bowl of popcorn is much more enticing.) But unless you have a compelling excuse to stay home, go to these professional events anyway.
Don't limit yourself to industry events, either. Be on the lookout for get-togethers hosted by your alumni association or regional chapter, local charities, or other organizations for which you volunteer. And don't stress about having an opening line when meeting new people. Just walk up to someone and introduce yourself.
Keep business cards with you at all times.
Why? You never know who you might meet at your friend's party, the neighborhood potluck, or your cousin's wedding. You never know who you might sit next to on your next flight.
While the focus of social events and everyday interactions isn't usually on business, it's always wise to be prepared to talk business. And on a similar note, do carefully consider the way you dress and behave when you're off the clock, as people are always watching and making decisions about your brand. Perception equals truth in the minds of the public.
Enjoy yourself – to a point.
Yes, there's a reason why alcohol has a reputation as a "social lubricant." It can help take the edge off your nerves, which often comes as a welcome relief at networking events.
Just watch your intake – limit yourself to one small drink, or only a few sips. Remember your ultimate purpose. You are there to network, not to get drunk.
Find a new group.
Are you feeling a bit bored by your regular routine? Consider joining new clubs or taking classes in subjects that interest you. Any aggregation of people presents an opportunity to make new friends and to network. And since you are all engaged in an activity that you enjoy, everyone will be in a good mood and more open to making and solidifying connections.
Hidden, game-changing career opportunities are everywhere, but they won't magically reveal themselves. The only way to access these clandestine gems is via networking.