Networking can suck for someone like me who is naturally averse to standing in a room with tepid, cheap wine. Forcing some kind of conversation that makes you sound intelligent whilst delivering it in a breezy, laid back, effortless way.
But I go to these events because I am trying to put myself out there. Trying to talk myself up to industry peers whilst being breezy and laid back. I’ve laughed at senseless jokes. I’ve pretended to follow the thread of a group talking about, well I don’t know because often I can’t actually hear what’s being said. There’s usually too much noise of cheesy music. Or the confident chatter of the admirable few who are actually good at small talk.
When Networking Works…
I may be a little harsh here, but the truth is networking doesn’t have to be any of the above. Networking events are done best when the room doesn’t have that desperation stench to it. When you’re not gathered together to necessarily get something from someone but to generally enjoy conversation. Swapping business cards is a bonus. Take for example Black Ballad – a website dedicated to smart, creative, entrepreneurial, savvy black women who want to read topics that interest and is relatable to them. They had an event whereby Black Ballad members all gathered together to eat simple but tasty canapés, not so cheap wine and big, alcohol-fused cupcakes. Many of us came not knowing anyone. It was easy to be breezy and laid back. It was easy to genuinely laugh at jokes. When I stood hugging the wall with my empty plastic cup – instead of eyeing the nearest exit, I was accosted by friendly faces wanting to know my name, take a selfie with me or compliment my gravity-defying hair.
The Right and the Almost Right
So what is the right way to network?
- Join groups on social media (I belong to theatre groups for example) and become active in that group. When they have an event, you will already be familiar with the type of people who may be attending.
- Check out platforms such as Eventbrite. You can search for events in your area. Again – you will be starting on common ground, therefore you won’t be going to an event completely green.
- Don’t go to a networking event just to gain connections. This can put undue pressure on yourself. Have genuine conversations with people that then leads to talking about yourself/your job/business idea, etc.
- Be approachable, friendly and know that they’ll always be someone sweating underneath their carefully laid out cool – but trying not to be too cool – shirt. Find them if you’re not ready to talk to the one who seems confident and has a flock of people around them. Be in it together.
- And with that – when you do start a conversation with someone, you don’t have to start with what you do or a living. Maybe a way to shift the nerves is to compliment them (it worked for me. People loved my hair. Even when it was getting big because of the humidity of the room.)
The not so right way to network is maybe not to hug walls, look at your watch or stand clutching your wine glass. Or linger near a group trying to jump into the conversation – you don’t want to look creepy, especially if you’re just standing there looking at everyone.
So networking doesn’t have to suck. I have to do it because I have a few things coming up and need to engage with people who may be interested in what I’m doing. I want to do it because meeting new people helps me to stay inspired; generate new ideas and possible collaborations and sometimes even make friends. So next time you’re at an event, peel yourself away from the wall/bar/toilets/wherever the food is and get stuck in. Soon it won’t suck anymore.