Ditch Networking – Make Meaningful Connections Instead
This was something that I was constantly asking myself after working 14 years in a very reputable multi-national corporation. End of 2016, I was put on the spot to represent myself and my own company Wholistic Coachsulting at Networking Events. Despite my MBTI showing me that I am an Extrovert, I felt extremely uncomfortable to approach random people at events and introduce myself as a Certified Professional Coach. Plenty of limiting self-talk went on in my head, including “Are people still going to talk to me even though I am not representing a Fortune 100 company?”
I always saw myself as an effective networker within Shell but being out there in the big scary world felt extremely uncomfortable and I had to find a networking style that resonates with me and my core values.
In the business of collecting business cards
The first networking events I attended were underwhelming. People didn’t seem to care to have a meaningful conversation and it looks as if we were in a competition to collect and give out the most business cards. After discussing with friends who are side hustlers, entrepreneurs or job seekers, we noticed that very few individuals who received our business cards would actually reconnect post event (which of course could have many reasons but for now I am not going into that).
I had to become in tune with my networking preference and realized that I don’t feel comfortable being in an anonymous networking event where you already know that most participants were out to sell their services and products. Hence I carefully selected networking events where I would likely meet like-minded individuals who care to create meaningful connections.
Being Genuine and nurture new connections
I thought, I needed to walk the entire room and shake hands with everyone and collect business cards. Once I realized that this approach didn't work for me and that it wasn't effective, I changed my networking goal and focused on making real, genuine connections with (a few) people at events.
If I really enjoyed a conversation with someone, I would make sure to ask for a follow up catch up to continue the conversation one-to-one. This approach has been the most effective for me because people tend to be highly stressed in a networking event setting and are not able to focus their attention on your conversation.
I am a strong believer that it takes more than just one-time encounters to establish relationships. How I nurture new connections is to keep in touch beyond the networking event and also leverage other networking opportunities apart from the obvious networking events.
My Top 5 Tips for Effective Networking
The following tips are easy to apply and helped me navigate through the jungle of networking opportunities, yet still remaining authentic and having meaningful conversations.
1. Quality over Quantity: If I felt a click with someone I met, I make sure to reconnect with the person via LinkedIn or Email. In the connection request, I include a short summary of our conversation. This way I remember something significant about the individual and the other person will hopefully feel that I value our conversation.
2. Be generous: I would provide some helpful insights or offer to introduce my new connection to my contacts who might be valuable for them. I have learnt not to be stingy with my contacts and am now on the mission to be the best connector I can be.
3. Seek for advise but be specific: I noticed that most people, including myself feel extremely flattered, when you are being asked for advise. In general, people tend to be more helpful than we think. Remember to switch off your negative self-talk: “I don’t want to bother the other person.” But be specific on how the other person could help you and offer help in return.
4. Create genuine connections instead of thinking about making sales. For me, the most interesting conversations that led to potential collaboration was through genuine interest in the person and what they are doing. At no point was I even thinking about any collaboration or partnership opportunities and that's probably what made the conversation more natural and genuine.
5. Leverage LinkedIn as an effective networking platform: There are many articles on how to update your LinkedIn profile but apart from just using LinkedIn as a job seeking portal, it’s also a great platform to connect with like-minded individuals. Again, make sure to follow up and groom the relationship. Don't wait until you are looking for a new job.
I hope this helps you to get off to a great start to make more meaningful conversations.