This is the third in our series on networking, learn why you’re not alone in dreading networking events (and how to improve the experience for yourself), and how to level-up your mindset and set networking goals. Now, we take on how to redefine networking with alternatives to the traditional - often dreaded - mixer events.
Their tips include:
If the past few years have accomplished one thing, it’s making us all more aware of just how much can be accomplished online. Make that universal acceptance work for you! Laurie Barlev, Head of Business Operations of Papaya Global, expands, “Covid taught me that a zoom meeting is a great substitute for a first meeting. If you don't want to go to an event, you can find people to try and contact through LinkedIn.”
Katie Taylor, Founder and CEO of Child Life on Call, agrees. “LinkedIn! Some of the greatest opportunities (for me) have come from sending messages to industry experts asking to learn about what they've been through. Just last week, I reached out to a founder who sold his company to the largest industry leader in our space - and he said yes. We had coffee, I learned a ton, and now I have a new friend in my city.”
If traditional networking events put you on edge, rest assured those larger rooms aren’t always filled with greater opportunity. Reach out one-on-one and build relationships in smaller communities.
“I think it's important to first know yourself and then gradually develop your own style. When it comes to networks, the bigger the better is not necessarily true; a smaller network of deep, high-quality relationships can often be just as impactful as a wide and shallow one.” Says Jean Poh, CEO of modern, luxury jewelry house, CADAR.
“There are some people who are naturally hyper-social, they cast a wide net and thrive off of the energy. I've never been one of them and over the years I learned to stop trying to force myself to be. I prefer to have deep relationships with a smaller group of people with whom I share the same values and enjoy spending time and I focus my energy and attention on showing up for those people consistently.”
Randi Mason, Partner, Co-Chair, and Attorney at Morrison Cohen, reminds us that it doesn’t need to be complicated. “There are so many ways to network. The simplest is to ask someone to coffee. If you meet someone whose work might complement yours, simply say ‘It sounds like we could be able to help each other professionally. We should get a coffee.’ Then, when you sit down together, specifically ask, ‘How can I help you?’”
“There are of course times when you need access to a specific person or resource.” Continues Jean Poh. “In those moments, reach out to your friends, colleagues, and relationships you already have and ask for introductions. Often it's much more effective to have a warm intro from a trusted source.”
With or without a warm introduction, another option is pursuing the slightly more formal informational interview. “I do a fair amount of informational interviewing.” Explains Alice Myerhoff, Founder and Principal of Myerhoff Consulting. “I have a tendency to tackle projects that require me to learn new verticals and I learn best in conversations, rather than reading trade pubs (although that's important too), so I reach out to people and ask if they would be willing to chat with me for 20-30 minutes to help me understand their space. Most people are willing to do this and even enjoy sharing their knowledge. I do make a point of preparing for these conversations and have questions ready to go. Typically these people then become part of my network and sometimes even employers or friends.”
If you see a need for a particular type of event, but don’t see the event being held, consider putting it on yourself. Start simply. “You can form your own small networking group –a few people who meet monthly, share what is happening professionally, and ask and make a conscious effort to refer relationships to each other.” Encourages Randi Mason. “In recent years, people have been organizing smaller, more curated networking events, such as intimate dinner parties or gallery nights. If you get invited to one of those, go.”
A good starting point is evaluating how you tell those close to you about your business, or what kinds of relationships you are trying to build. “Talk to friends and acquaintances about your business needs and how they might be able to assist you. Most people do not know how to make introductions for friends. People do not understand your business or how they can help. It is the job of the potential networker to explain (in plain English), what type of connection would be most useful to them at the moment.” Explains Shii Ann Huang, a leading New York real estate agent who previously found success on Survivor: Thailand and Survivor: All Stars!, in an unconventional testament to her well-honed people skills.
“Plan brunch, dinner parties or a private event with people you know and insist they bring at least one person you don't know. Create something you would like to experience and share that vision with others...if you plan it, they will come. Expand your own personal network.”
“You absolutely should not attend events that don't fill you up - that leads to feeling drained and burning you out. However, consider what it would take for an event to transform from overwhelming to enjoyable.” Katie Taylor prompts. “Consider creating your own networking event and instead of drinks and big houses, suggest a yoga class or a museum trip followed by a cup of coffee. That sounds enjoyable to me!”
Jean Poh continues, “When you share interests and values then the conversation naturally flows toward ‘What we can do and create together?’ Within [the] group [I’m consistently investing in], there are a few [colleagues] who do have wide networks, so when they invite me to events or gatherings, I go because it's much more likely that there will be like-minded people there who I'll enjoy spending time with. People who love networking could amplify their impact by thinking about how they can be of service to others and what they can provide. Be wary of taking a transactional approach and don't forget to keep it light and have fun.”
Don’t limit yourself to branded “professional” or “networking” events. In reality, your network is made up of all those with whom you have relationships. You may meet some of your most helpful contacts playing pickleball, at book club, or in a hiking group!
“Get involved in activities that you like that are social.” Encourages Laurie Barlev.
“Take off your headphones, put away your phone, put yourself in situations where there are people around you.” Pushes Jean Poh. “Go through life interested in what’s happening around you. Don't be afraid to smile at someone and engage in conversation. You'd be surprised at how easy it is to connect with people if you're just open to it. Pursue what you're interested in and talk to people. ‘Connected’ is a way of living, not something that one only does when one needs something from someone.”
You can also join a professional organization, or take a class on a topic that interests you! “In these cases, people are seeking out others to meet, so there is less pressure on you thinking you are the only one.” Laurie Barlev suggests.
Take Care of Your Whole Self, Even While Networking
“Take breaks,” says Randi Mason. “Step outside the room to check email, or even Facebook. Bring a laptop so you can keep up with some of your work. It helps mitigate the added stress of falling too far behind and can be a good excuse to take a break.”
“Be wary of being the one who is talking the most,” advises Katie Taylor. “And consider stepping outside your comfort zone and introducing yourself to one person you haven't met before.”
“One of the big takeaways I got from the COVID experience is prioritizing self-care.” Says Alice Myerhoff. “I have definitely worn myself quite ragged at conferences, even to the point of fainting. So, I would recommend that people set some limits for themselves. Make sure they stay hydrated, get enough sleep, eat enough protein, et cetera. I can say from experience, missing that next party is way better than coming to, on the floor, with strangers looking at you trying to figure out if they should call an ambulance.”
Caitlin Yates, Chief Communications Officer of DataXstream, sums it up and sends us off with an approachable 5-step playbook and some encouragement. “As an introvert the traditional view around networking always sounded scary. On top of that I took the long road and entered the world of professionals after 15 years as a stay at home mom, so I put what I had learned as a military brat, always moving, always the new kid at school, into play: 1) People love to share about themselves, ask good questions. 2) Often one or two well connected individuals will either introduce you with intent to others or will inadvertently create connections for you. 3) You don’t have to talk shop the whole time. Find a connection, favorite sport, artist, travel destination and chat about that. Then if you are trying to learn more about their profession you can segue into more serious talk after the connection. 4) Take breaks. Build in some quiet time to transfer notes or breathe for a minute. 5) Chin up, shoulders back, you got this”
Lauren Lyddon has helped people and organizations to tell their stories for more than a decade. Having tested her love of the creative through the pursuit of an MBA and undergraduate business degrees, she is a writer, editor, and lover of fiction in all its forms (especially theatre, well-written television, and novels). A West coast resident often operating on an East coast schedule, Lauren uses her business background and love of story to serve clients in writing, editing, PR, and more. You can visit her online at L2crtv.com.