I seem to have a lot of conversations with people who are scared of networking. A friend doesn't like the idea of talking to strangers. She says she doesn't know how to begin a conversation - even if she is at a demonstration with thousands of other people marching up a road to parliament house with the same intention she has. Another friends says she doesn't know what to talk about, at an event that is set up for people to talk with each other. And a business acquaintance is sure that if she fails to hand out business cards she is failing at networking, and if she fails at networking she will never broaden her client group.
Then I look on the blogs of networking experts and they talk about networking as if it is all about handing out business cards and smiling while you do it. I despair! A message is getting sent out to the population at large that fake smiles and business cards are part of you business package. If people listen to them, no wonder they invert and become dramatic. So I invite you not to listen to them. Fake smiles are never useful. Business cards are often useful, but not in this way.
There are 4 secrets to networking. I expose them wherever I can.
First, acknowledge that you need other people for your projects. If you don't, your projects aren't big enough.
Second, know what you need. Think about it. You must need a lot of things. You may need someone to introduce you to someone. You may need to pick someone's brain because they now things you need to know. You may need someone to help you make photocopies, or pay bills, or advise you on when to plant summer vegetables in your back garden. If you think about it, you need a lot. You have no end of things you can ask people. And if you don't know what you need, inquire into what the other person has. You never know, you may need what thy have.
Third, tell people what you are up to. They can provide things you need if they know what you are up to, without you even having to ask.
And fourth, give generously when someone asks you for your input, ideas or thoughts.
Yesterday I used the 4 secrets of networking and had a lot of fun while working. It is fun. It has all the ingredients of fun: you talk, you share ideas, you engage in someone else's life, you get beyond surface chatter.
I was at a viewing of the Super Bowl with a crowd of Americans. I sat next to someone I have spoken with on a number of occasions, all of them related to the politics or culture of the United States. We have shared exciting and moving moments and I have always admired her spark. Our conversation was always about the event at hand. But last night I was inquisitive and wanted to know more about this woman. So I quizzed her, and I found out she teaches business at our local university, and that her research project is on a topic dear to the interests of one of my clients. I had recently met a researcher from a sister university that I thought she would like to know. I promised to send her information. She didn't have a card on her but I did, and I gave it to her.
Since then, she contacted me and I sent her the information she wanted on the researcher. I passed on her contact information to my client.
Was this exchange good for business? I think so. I have created trust and relationship, with my client as well as with my new contact. People do business with people they know, like and trust. By linking people with each other, I am creating a web of people who know and trust each other, and me.
So what does this have to do with the friend who doesn't know how to talk to people at a demonstration? My invitation to her is to stop thinking any of this is difficult. If you don't know what you need, be inquisitive. Find out what other people need. And be generous.
Its all good. And fun.
Lin McDevitt-Pugh is the founder and director of NETSHEILA, a company dedicated to working with organisations and individuals to expand their ability to transform the networks of relationships they already have into resources to improve the quality of the workplace. Call +31 6 150 68468 to discuss how your organisation can benefit from working with NETSHEILA or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.