How to make networking fun!
Updated: Mar 2
You walk into the room. You pin your badge to your jacket.
You quickly scan the room. As you thought: no one you know.
You look around. Where can you hang up your coat? And your umbrella? Where are the toilets?
Then you shuffle to the back of the room. Where the coffee is. You pour your coffee. You get that delicious-looking Danish and balance it on your cup. You turn around. You take a deep breath. And go and talk to the nearest person who looks approachable. Or worse, don't talk to anyone at all. And leave with nothing.
No plan. No idea who was going to be there before you went.
That was networking. Remember it?
It was dead scary. It was uncomfortable. And that Danish was always a mistake.
Networking. It must be the most hated word in the female vocabulary.
Because when we think of networking that's the image we have in our heads.
Of course, the pandemic and working from home has changed all that.
Networking is no longer standing in the back of the room, knowing no one, feeling socially awkward at best.
No, networking is online, and therefore other tactics need to be used to make sure you talk to the right people, feel comfortable approaching people, and make you sure you can talk confidently about yourself.
So why am I telling you this?
You see, I know EXACTLY where you're coming from.
Despite being classed an extrovert, I used to hate going to these events. I WAS the woman precariously balancing my pastry on my cup of coffee. Kicking myself at the end of the event, when I left with nothing. For not having spoken to the 'right' people. Not even knowing who the 'right' people were.
Since then I've learned a thing or two.
About how to know who to talk to. What the best way is to approach them. I've learned that people are more than happy to talk to you and help you. I've learned that coming prepared, knowing what you want, knowing what you want to say and ask makes this networking thing so much easier.
I've learnt that networking equals meeting interesting people.
That it might even be fun!
The three networking mistakes
So, here goes. I'll talk to you about the three common mistakes that you all make and give you a way to prepare yourself to make this networking thing, well, fun!
1. Not knowing who to talk to
It's so easy, isn't it? When you're in a job, when you feel secure, when you have no desire to leave.
You have your network, your friends, your family. When you need something you just ask.
But what if you want to make a change? What if - after a career of 15, 20, 25 years even - you want to make a career transition? What if you want to make a full career change? What do you do then?
The answer is: you become very (very!) focused in identifying who you know - and who you don't (yet).
Who you want to talk to. Who you believe will help you. Who will help you move forward. (And if you want to learn more about the importance of people during your career change why not check out my blog: 3 ways in which people are key to your career change).
Start with who you know. And don't forget: people in you network also has a network! Someone will know someone who knows someone.
In my e-book 'How to make networking fun!' you will find a number of strategies and techniques you can deploy to become more focuses in your networking.
2. Not wanting to bother people
'Who would want to talk to you?'
It's deeply ingrained in us. Not to want to bother other people.
Because who would want to talk to you? Who would want to hear about your story? Who would be interested in helping you?
Yes, it might be deeply ingrained in us to not want to bother others. But what if you looked at this in a different way?
First of all, if someone came to you, asking you to talk about the work that you're doing. Asking for tips about what they need to make their way into your field of work. Asking you to talk about your work, your passion, your skills. Would you say 'No!'? Of course you wouldn't.
You'd be happy to talk about yourself. About giving them time.
It's no different for others. As long as it's not too cumbersome. As long as it's clear what they need to do. As long as it's clear what it's all about.
So, what's the worst that can happen? Two things: 1. You get a 'No' or a 'No, not now', or
2. You hear nothing.
What do you do then? You move on, and find someone who DOES want to talk to you, or find other ways to have a conversation with that person.
For ways in which you can approach getting an 'informational interview' and what you should ask when you do ('Yay!') - go to my 'How to make networking fun!' e-book
3. Talking about yourself
I get it. I really do.
We've not been taught to talk about ourselves. In some cases we've been actively discouraged to speak up.
Instead we've been taught to think of the team, the group, to speak about 'we', and 'us' when we talk about our achievements. To not being liked when we speak openly about our accomplishments.
You are not good at 'selling yourself', is what you say.
I get it. I do.
But what if what you're selling is not 'you'?
What if what you're selling is the results you get for your employer, your client? What if you could talk about your results and what you did as if it was - well - fact? Which it is? What if it is about your services instead?
Sounds a lot less sleazy, doesn't it?
Do you want to 'practice' talking about yourself? In my e-book 'How to make networking fun!' you'll find two fun exercises to help you do just that!
It's not scary. It's no longer standing in the back of the room trying to balance your handbag, a coffee and that Danish pastry.
I'd go as far as saying that:
Networking = Meeting interesting people
It might even be fun!
Tineke Tammes is an ICF accredited Career Coach, who supports professional women in making successful career transitions into work they love! Besides that she is also a lifelong feminist, part-time portrait artist, never-only-read-one-book-at-any-time reader, and obsessive doodler. Oh, and she knows a bit about change management too.