It’s safe to say I hate networking.
(I can admit that, right?)
The mediocre speakers, the waiting in line with a bunch of strangers to get an ugly laminated nametag, the surprise “sell” at the end, the crummy food, the awkward standing around wondering what everyone else is thinking, the forced mingling…
Just writing about it makes me scrunch up my face in disgust (which ain’t pretty, I assure you).
But here’s the cold, hard, ugly truth of the world:
We’re only as successful as the people we know.
Maybe you knew that. You probably did. But I didn’t — at least, not until about five years ago.
That was the first thing I had to learn: The opportunities a person receives are generally (not always, but most times) commensurate with the quality of their network. I am as idealistic as they come, but in this area I’ve grown relentlessly pragmatic. Stuff just doesn’t happen if you don’t know people. It’s the way it is.
So then, the conundrum.
Armed with my new recongnition about the importance of an always-improving network, how does a person like me go about meeting new people… without networking?
And that’s the second thing I learned: You don’t have to “network” to grow your network.
Essentially, in order to network I have learned to leverage my own strengths: those things which energize me. (Some call this “practicing what you preach.”) I am energized by small, intimate groups where I can dialogue in a mostly one-on-one atmosphere. Once I realized this, I just had to adapt my networking methods to match it.
I would suggest that your successful networking strategy (whatever it is) will grow out of your own strengths (whatever they are).
If you, too, hate “networking,” here are a few thoughts:
- Volunteer to serve on the board of a professional organization. The close connections are highly preferable, and these groups are always looking for more good leaders.
- Participate in online communities like LinkedIn or Facebook — but push them to “spill over” into phone calls, Skype calls, G+ Hangouts, or coffee sessions if you live in the same city. Again, the theory is to use big groups as a tool to get to those one-on-one conversations.
- Get referrals from friends. Let it be known what you do and what you like and invariably people will connect you with people who they think you should know. Then set up a call or get coffee with those new connections. Intimate and focused — just my style!
For me, the secret to networking without “networking” was all about going for quality. I hate “events” with the passion of an angry feline (yikes), but here’s the part I’ve left out so far — I love connecting with people, hearing their stories, helping them accomplish new things, and building relationships. I just needed to find a way outside of the typical “networking” model in which to do that.
Use your strengths as a guide, and I know you’ll find your way, too.