“I don’t like networking.”
I said this recently, while talking to friend and fellow coach Julie Fordham (who has recently released a series of YouTube videos on happiness – worth a watch!). As soon as I said it I felt uncomfortable, a bit like when you’re caught in a half truth you thought you’d got away with. I have actually been to a networking event recently that I really enjoyed. Although it was not without some awkward moments, I put that down to my tendency towards introversion – the event itself was really inspiring, as I mentioned briefly in my last post.
So, why did I feel uncomfortable? There was a pause on the line. “I always say to people not to think of it as networking”, Julie said… “It’s just talking to people.”
And with that, she’d hit the nail on the head.
It’s not networking
“It’s just talking to people.”
I love talking to people. Especially one on one. I love getting to know people’s stories, their challenges, how they ended up where they are and what they’re passionate about. I mean, it’s why I do what I do! It’s all about connections. Which, when you think about it, is just another word for networking.
Julie went on to say that those who are good at networking do it naturally, although they might not call it that. They are the ones who are genuinely interested in people. Although they might claim to have never attended a networking event in their lives, if you need someone, you know they will be the person who can help. Need a new hairdresser? They know someone. A local plumber? A friend of a friend they met recently could help you out. A web designer? There’s this woman they used to work with… You get the picture. That’s a network.
Building real relationships
I agree with Julie, and that’s why I felt uncomfortable when I said I didn’t like networking. What I meant was, I don’t enjoy certain types of networking events – the sort where everyone shows up with their elevator pitch and business cards and you don’t get a chance to really speak to people. When I reach out to someone, it’s because I genuinely want to connect and hear their story.
After reflecting on my conversation with Julie a thought crept in… ‘What if… I’m actually pretty good at networking?’ I might not be at
any every networking event s and I have a modest number of followers on social media (although that’s all relative) but the relationships I do have, both personal and professional, are long-term. I believe this is because I care, and that’s hard to do if I’ve only had two minutes with a business card and an elevator pitch.
Making networking work
So how do I make networking work for me? Well, as you can imagine, I tend to prefer smaller events when you can really speak to people but I have to give a special mention to Hub Dot, whose storytelling approach really appeals even though I still find the size of the events can be a little overwhelming.
I stay in touch with colleagues from previous roles – provided I get on with them! If we don’t have some level of friendship then I simply wouldn’t make the effort and of course all of my friends make up the inner circle of my network (it’s not all about work, remember!). I have also made many deep connections via social media. In fact, I met Julie through a Facebook group and many of the online friends I now speak to, if not meet with ‘in real life’, I met initially through twitter.
Some bemoan the way social media has replaced the art of conversation but I disagree. I think it’s a great way to build deeper relationships over time with people you might otherwise not have had the pleasure of meeting.
How do you feel about networking? Does calling it something else make it feel different to you? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please do comment below!