A Better Kind of Networking
If you aren’t a fan of networking, you are not alone!
I hear it all the time from entrepreneurs, business professionals and MBA students: “I hate networking. It makes me feel uncomfortable.”
We can all relate to the challenge of striking up a conversation with a stranger. It isn’t easy for most us. Perhaps it goes back to the warnings about “Stranger Danger” that you heard as a kid. Maybe it just feels scary to risk rejection. Who knows!
When I met Jenna, she had just launched her marketing and social media consulting business. Jenna had signed on a few clients from her former corporate life, but she needed to grow her business.
Her biggest challenge? Jenna didn’t like to network. This is how she described her discomfort:
“I force myself to go to these events, and as I walk in I feel a pit in my stomach. I just want to get it over with. I end up feeling inauthentic – like I’m either selling myself short or bragging. I am trying too hard and it’s awkward…But I know I have to do it, so I keep at it.”
Is there a way for Jenna, and the rest of us to improve our ability and willingness to network?
Yes! But it requires a shift in mindset. It’s possible to see networking as an opportunity for connection, discovery and learning – rather than a chore.
Okay I know what you are thinking … yeah, right! Telling me to have a better attitude isn’t enough.
To get started, here are some specific and practical tips that will help you practice this new mindset:
Begin with a focus on your new networking goals: CONNECT, DISCOVER, LEARN
Open with “Hi, we haven’t met yet. What kind of business are you in?” – it’s a friendly way to initiate conversation. Show that you are really listening. Nod, smile, and stay focused on just that person. Your eye contact and facial expression signal that you value what they do.
Follow-up with “Who is your ideal client?” – this prompts people to talk about who they want to help/sell to and why (a great way to get to know someone, and you will both relax).
Find common interests and stay curious – this makes the conversation feel more authentic and it builds connection. The bonus for you is that you may learn something!
Think broadly about what you can give – Perhaps you have some knowledge or insight that will be useful to those you meet. Be generous.
Why does this work so well? It’s human nature, also known as the Law of Reciprocity.
The Law of Reciprocity says when someone does something nice for us, we will have a deep-rooted psychological urge to do something nice in return.
By the time you talk about the work you do and the clients or customers you serve, the person you are talking with will feel the urge to lean in, listen and support you too!