How to network authentically
Let's face it, the idea of subjecting yourself to yet another networking event can start to feeling pretty daunting after a while. Even a self-proclaimed networking "powerhouse" will eventually lose steam when it comes to working the room and engaging in face-to-face interactions with strangers. Especially if those interactions feel forced and disingenuous.
Maybe you have a looming deadline at work, or maybe you've simply been burning the candle at both ends for far too long - whatever it is, we've all been there. You agreed to go to this event weeks ago, and now that the day is here, you're contemplating the fastest route home so you can jump into sweatpants in front of the TV. It doesn't have to be like that! Believe it or not, networking doesn’t have to feel forced or even like a chore at all. It actually is possible to network authentically, and totally make it worth your while.
There's something about attending a networking event that makes us feel like we are walking onto the set of Shark Tank. Oftentimes, we have already worked up in our own heads that "this is it”, this is the time and place to make that one amazing connection that could change everything. It's easy to feel pressured to show up in a BIG way in order to make a good impression - it's not just overwhelming, it's exhausting! The key is to view a work-related event for exactly what it is - a way to make new friends. If we remove the hype, and maybe even the idea that someone in this room has the missing puzzle piece, we can just relax, and be ourselves. The key is to network authentically. Walk into your next networking event as if you were walking into a friend's house warming party, and see how that feels.
Once you're able to remove the idea of “needing” to meet people, the pressure is off. There's no more asking “what can you do for me?” when meeting someone new. Remember, business relationships are very much like personal relationships - not every person in the room is going to be a good fit, and those who are a good fit, will just click. These are the key elements for authentic networking -
MAKE FRIENDS NOT FRENEMIES
Back to the house party, grab a drink and mingle as you normally would. Dive in head first with zero expectations. Think of this as an opportunity to make new friends, rather than new business connections. The idea of being strictly business adds an element of competition - it's human nature. However,
When you treat every networking conversation as a possible new friend, instead of sizing each other up, you're able to create a much more authentic connection. - Tweet this!
When engaging in conversation, don't even worry about talking shop. Instead, get to know one another, and ask yourself, "is this someone I could hang out with again?", just as if you were dating for a new friend. If it's a good fit, the rest of the business pieces will fall into place naturally. At some point, you will be asked what it is that you do, so be sure to have a clear and concise explanation ready to go - along with your business card.
Because you never know who you might meet, don't stress it if these conversations don't instantly inspire you to work together. You might meet someone in a completely different industry, and six months later realize they would make a great addition to something you have in the pipeline. For example: If you're a stylist, and you hit it off with a fellow creative who happens to make loomed wall art, don't discredit this connection. Later down the line you might host an open house event, and having someone in your network to help spruce up the space might really come in handy!
Be sure to strike while the iron is hot. We all know the best time to re-connect is shortly after meeting for the first time, even just sending a quick note the next morning while everyone is still buzzing from the night before is perfect. Start by sending a short email to open the lines of communication, and express how great it was to meet your new friend. The next step is one that far too many people miss these days.
Keeping with the theme of making new friends, rather than business contacts - don't reach out only when you have something business-y going on! Instead, in about a week or so, keep yourself on their radar by shooting them an email that's not work-related. For example, if you come across a really inspiring story about a female entrepreneur in their industry, send them the story and say something like, "saw this today and totally thought of you - cheers to killing it this week!". That just feels so much more authentic!
Rather than reaching out and coming across as sales-y, treat everyone like a new member of your tribe and genuinely connect on a more authentic level. Chances are, when they are in the market for your services, or know someone who is, you'll be the first person who comes to mind.
Try this at your next networking event
Remember to make friends first, and the rest will follow. Compliment someone on their shoes, but only if you genuinely mean it. Make it a point to offer up authentic, genuine interactions to get the conversation going, and let the rest flow naturally.
The key to authentic networking is to create, and then nurture, real relationships across multiple industries. At the end of the day, you never know who you might meet, or how you might be able to work together in the future. One thing is for sure - you definitely won't make any new connections by sitting at home on the couch!