I’m going to start this conversation with a bold, inflammatory statement: I hate networking.
People who know me often respond to that sentiment with, “But you’re so good at it! You’re friendly, and you talk to everyone. How could you hate talking to people?”
I’d say I’m halfway between an extrovert and an introvert. I love parties and events where I know people in the room. It’s invigorating to be in a space where I’m comfortable, and talking about the things I care about. But the moment I step into a room where I don’t know people and the room is full of experts in my field, I’m intimidated. It can be exhausting to have to be “on” for several hours, trying to meet new people and either make friends or business contacts (or ideally, both).
Sometimes, I find it hard to make it out the door knowing that I have to go, be “on,” and collect business cards and contacts. Sometimes, it just feels kind of slimy. The idea of people in business suits, all just trying to get ahead. I’m competitive in board games, but the idea of competing for contacts is a major turn-off.
However, this is a necessary evil. There are so many opportunities out there that will be unknown to you from internet searches or staying within your small circle of friends and family. Building a large network can open the door to new job opportunities, VIP events, and so much more.
A year ago, I had the opportunity to meet John Farmer of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and sit in on a conversation about the Presidential Innovation Fellows. This would not have happened if I hadn’t put myself out there and attended hackathons with Hack’n Jill, met Kara Silverman (a co-founder), and established myself as a professional. There’s no way I would have known about this event or been invited without that connection. Furthermore, I was the youngest person in that room (and one of just a few women).
So, if you dread the idea of networking, how do you go about meeting people and finding such opportunities?
Be judicious about your events; only go to those you’ll find entertaining,
There’s no point in going to a networking event where everyone is rock climbing if you don’t like athletics. Similarly, there’s little motivation to go to a happy hour if you don’t drink. Find events that provide a secondary activity that you enjoy, and you’ll be much more amenable to meeting people.
Bring two friends
Why not just bring one friend? Then you risk the chance of just talking to that one friend the entire night instead of going out and talking to new people. By bringing two friends, there’s a safety net. Everyone can take turns going out into the wilderness of people, while still having friends to return to.
Give yourself an attainable goal.
It can feel overwhelming if you’re trying to meet all of the people in the room (especially if the room is the size of a banquet hall). Give yourself a number of business cards (or Twitter handles) to collect, and then you can feel good about making that goal.
Make a game for yourself, and you can even clue new people you meet to your game. Once you’ve spent time getting to know a new person, if you feel you’ve made a friend for the evening you can to say, “Hey, I’m trying to meet five people, but it seems everyone is sectioned off in little groups. Want to go break in to a new group with me?” This way, you have an excuse to keep talking and have a partner in crime for meeting more people.
After it all, follow up.
So great, now you’ve met five new people. Getting the business card and keeping it in a stack does you zero good. You must find a way to follow up, and you have several ways of going about it. Make it personal, and make it stick. Either connect on LinkedIn with a custom message or send a follow up email. Remind your new contact of the circumstances under which you met, as well as a few little details about yourself you may have shared. Thank them for their time. Suggest a way to keep the conversation going, be it getting coffee or meeting for happy hour, or passing along an article that you feel would be of interest to your new contact.
At the end of the day, don’t let it all be for naught. Follow up and solidify the contacts, if only to remind yourself that it wasn’t time wasted.
Most importantly, remember you’re awesome.
Even if that event that sounded so great turns out to be a bust, even if you meet one person and not five, even if you follow up and your contact doesn’t respond, that’s ok. Practice makes perfect. Next time, you never know who you’ll meet and what doors will be opened to you.