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Guilt-free networking: How Allan dropped his elevator pitch and started meeting cool people

© 2009 Avocationist · December 14th, 2009 · 10 Comments

Photo by TheGiantVermin

7:06 pm at the Hilton. Running late from work. Pay my $15. Put on nametag. Gulp. Walk into a ballroom of strangers standing around chatting. Everyone knows someone but me. Crap. Maybe I’ll just stand in the corner…

Have you ever experienced the "yuck" factor of networking? Do you feel like you have to pretend to be someone different to make new contacts? Do you feel guilty about bothering people you'd like to meet?

I did too. Then I learned that networking was something I already knew how to do.

I just had to forget everything I'd read about the "right way" to connect with people.

Instead of fearful cold calls or sweaty-palmed handshakes, think about lunch with an old friend.

What do you talk about? Maybe how she is doing, what's going on in her life, or how her work is.

You share a new recipe or a restaurant recommendation. She gives you the name of a book that can help with your business. You remember that she loves painting and offer to introduce her to your neighbor who owns a gallery.

You have fun. You re-connect. You share.

Afterwards, you feel great and you've both helped out a good friend and built on your relationship.

Guess what? That's all there is to "networking".

It's how I've met best-selling authors, friends all over the world and how I've learned most every cool thing I've ever done.

But I also tried the networking receptions, the cold-calling and the mercenary focus on "what's in it for me?". None of these did much for me other than make me feel like a loser. It's really no wonder that networking has such a scary connotation.

If you want to find a new job, a mentor or just meet some cool new people, here are three tips for guilt-free (and fun) networking:

  1. Skip networking meetings and start with your friends
  2. You are only a few degrees of separation from most anyone you'd ever want to meet. Instead of trying to impress strangers in artificial 30-second meet-and-greets, reconnect with old friends, colleagues or neighbors.

  3. Unless you just love networking, don't do it until you have a specific reason
  4. When you are looking for a job or trying to get new clients, networking is the best way to find openings and new opportunities. Networking is also a great way to find the best daycare or guitar teacher.

    But unless you just love meeting people, don't add it to your list of "things I really should be doing". Just wait until you have a specific reason to expand your connections - it will make it easier for your friends to help you find the information you need anyway.

  5. Focus on helping - even when you most need help
  6. This is the cure-all to your nerves and guilt about connecting with people you haven't talked to in a long time. The trick is to prepare ahead of time with a quick list of ways you might be able to help the person you will be meeting with. Check out their website or facebook page. What do they like? Who do you know that they might like to meet?

    When you do this pre-work, you'll be primed to be in "helping mode" and less focused on your own needs. And even if you can't think of anything to offer, remember that a genuine note of thanks afterwards is an excellent gift of gratitude.

Want to learn more? Sign up for my Authentic Networking teleseminar.

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Tags: Personal Growth

10 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Rachel Z. Cornell // Dec 14, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    Ah this is great, I SO don't like networking, but I so DO like people. This is a nice vantage point adjustment, thanks.

  • 2 Avocationist // Dec 14, 2009 at 4:51 pm

    Rachel - if you like people, you'll love this approach. If you can get in the frame of mind to help your friends, you'll end up making lots of new ones!


  • 3 Louise (aka @ThoughtsHappen) // Dec 15, 2009 at 1:30 pm

    I love this! It captures my philosophy on networking perfectly. Just be yourself, focus on getting more than you give, and take the initiative - don't wait for others to talk to you first.

  • 4 Scott Messinger // Jan 4, 2010 at 4:59 pm

    I like the quote from author Charles Bukowski who said "I don't hate people.. but I seem to feel better when their not around".

    For some of us, dealing with people is a chore. They're not bad people. It's just the rules of social interactions are not natural for some people, so any interaction involves waaaaay too much work. At the end of the day, I'm exhausted by all the people I've had to interact with... and that's just through relatively structured work-related interaction. Any intensive interaction in a more social/unstructured 'networking' environment would make my head explode!

    I'll just take a good movie/book instead!

  • 5 Avocationist // Jan 4, 2010 at 6:17 pm

    @Scott - thanks for the comment. I also hate official "networking" events.

    I've got a great friend who is a proud introvert and gets worn out by interactions with her clients. Her preferred approach is using Twitter and other online networks as a way to meet them on her own terms and timeframes (and with less of the energy load of doing it in person).

    btw - my philosophy on networking is that you only really should network when you have a real need to - or if you just enjoy it. Otherwise, it's too much work and there's too little pay-off (unless you just naturally love it, or have to do it as part of your job - sales, etc).

    - Allan

  • 6 Angela // Feb 8, 2010 at 10:59 am

    Well said! I love your recommendation to think of the interaction like dealing with an old friend!

    I enjoy talking to new people any time anywhere, but the typical approach to networking can be soo off putting that I don't care to participate either!

  • 7 Bruce // May 21, 2010 at 6:14 pm

    Ah this is great, I SO don't like networking, but I so DO like people. This is a nice vantage point adjustment, thanks.

  • 8 Ken // Jun 16, 2010 at 10:22 am


    I used to think that I was way off base by the fact that I found elevator speeches annoying and insincere. I tried out a few myself at the constant urging of consultants and pundits. Even had a business consultant spend hours with me crafting one that conveyed what I did and how I helped people.

    I tried it out a few times and repeatedly received either indifference or people would have a puzzled look, spend a few seconds trying to translate what I said, and then respond with something along the lines of:

    Them "So you're an Immigration lawyer?"

    Me: "Yes"

    Them: "Why didn't you just say that to begin with?"

  • 9 Avocationist // Jun 16, 2010 at 11:31 am

    @ken - I was at a meeting last week where I met someone who had a polished elevator speech. I had the same reaction "what do you do? who do you work with?" I find it much easier to start from "how can I help you?"

  • 10 lois // Oct 14, 2010 at 7:29 am

    What a great article! I just started blogging and I didn't realize until recently how important networking is in growing it. Although I have apprehensions at first, I'm starting to get the hang of it. Thanks for your pointers. I'm sure these will come in handy pretty soon.

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