Most of us have developed a similar approach to networking - hand out business cards frequently and at random, and repeat your name and job title over and over. You forget most of the people with whom you exchange small talk and the reality is, they forget you.
Maybe someone has taught you that networking, like other sales and marketing activity requires a tangible ROI. Come back with a sale, find an investor, get hired.
Networking is not about instant gratification. There's an APP for that.
Let’s look at what networking really is. Networking is not ‘finding a job’, 'making a sale’ or ‘landing a client’. Networking with the goal of advancement as studied by Harvard Business school professor Francesca Gino, often makes people feel so bad about themselves that they feel “dirty”. If you are heading along to network with any type of specific goal (to advance yourself), then you are doing it wrong. These interactions can be a turn off if they are very obviously only transactional. Networking is about finding connections and building relationships and communities. It is your way of discovering and meeting people you many want to create a relationship with. The jobs, the projects, the funding, deals and introductions come as a result of putting time and effort into building and maintaining your relationships - not networking.
Why meet in person if you are only going to exchange names, titles and companies - why not do this through a google search, email or even over the phone? Networking is a waste of time if you can't tell people who you are.
I understand that in some countries people’s identities are very wedded to their job titles, and in some cultures, exchanging cards is a very important part of business protocols. No one wants their identity to be someone who is not an achiever, or passionate, or super successful - so the card and the title is important. But you don’t need to stop there. When you stop at a title, you are leaving it up to a complete stranger to guess who you really are. Are you OK relying on someone else’s perception and understanding of who you are and what you do?
When you are face to face with someone, you have the perfect opportunity to get to know them personally - to find out who they are, and tell them who you are. You have the perfect opportunity to connect in a memorable way and gain some understanding of one another. Then you can start to build trust. After all, this is what a true network is about - having people you can rely on, people you can trust and that trust you.
So, how should you approach it? Most of us have the same basic needs, we want to connect and we really just want to be remembered. And we know that first encounters are much more memorable if there is a personal element to them. Use what you know about yourself and your own strengths to created targeted ways for others to understand you - engage in further conversation about who you are, what you are interested in and what you think.
And remember - to be interesting, you have to be interested. People love to talk about themselves and their interests, so give them the opportunity to do that. Ask.
If you have connected with someone on a particular topic or shared experience, you have a way to follow up that makes sense. You can send an article on a topic you spoke about, you can ask a specific question “did you finish that project”, “how was your trip to the beach”, or “did your dog get better”. Then through your connection - your commonality - you can build a relationship.
So do the work. Figure out who you are and everything will make so much more sense. Networking will no longer be a chore but instead, an opportunity to meet interesting people and make real connections - who knows where that will lead?
If you can’t tell people who you are, you are living someone else's perception of you.
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