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:
- Skip networking meetings and start with your friends
- Unless you just love networking, don't do it until you have a specific reason
- Focus on helping - even when you most need help
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.
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.
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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