Why does “networking” get a bad rap?

Some people have a negative reaction to the idea of networking. Others avoid networking opportunities because they are uncomfortable or fearful. If the prospect of networking makes you uneasy, you have the wrong idea of what networking is about.

At a networking event, you may have seen someone grabbing as many business cards as possible while stuffing their card into your hand. Maybe you met someone who talked endlessly about himself or herself while never pausing to allow others to introduce themselves. You may have experienced the pushy follow-up, where someone you didn’t want to meet is calling you to sell you something you don’t want to buy.

Hopefully, this is not your approach to networking. If it is, immediately stop! You are contributing to the impression that “networking” is a bad word. No one would blame you for being turned o by such behavior. But that is not networking. It is just annoying. Unless a networking group or event is specifically designed for people to sell or pitch each other, such behavior is simply not appropriate in a professional networking situation.

“Networking” is not a bad word, but there are many bad networkers. ey are not bad people, but they have never learned the correct way to network. ey have not applied the “golden rule of networking.”

Networking = Building Professional Relationships

Successful professionals understand that networking is really about building relationships with other people. Although these relationships are professional in nature they are similar to the relationships in your personal life.

Your professional relationships need to be nurtured. Both people need to recognize the bene ts of their relationship and contribute to it. Have you ever had a friend or family member who seems to only take from your relationship, but doesn’t contribute? Relationships are not in balance at all times, but there must be some degree of equality over the long term or else it is not sustainable. is is as true for professional relationships as it is with personal relationships.

Networking hint. . . location matters.

Where you stand in the room at a networking event can change the outcome for you. e two most important locations are the registration table and the beverage table.

If the event you’re attending has a registration table, this is where it all begins. Say hello to the person behind you in line. Linger after you’ve registered and received your nametag. is is a great place to strike up a conversation as people first arrive. Examine the nametags for people you’d like to meet and ask the organizers to introduce you when the person arrives.

e other key location is the beverage table. Depending on the event, it could be co ee or cocktails. People will often linger after getting a beverage, which is an ideal time to start a conversation. When it is your turn to order a drink from the bartender, turn and o er to get something for the person behind you in line. I’ve found this location much more e effective than a food table. Once people have food on their plate, they are less inclined to pause for a conversation.

Networking Hint. . . meet the organizer.

In the last post, we highlighted one benefit of arriving at a networking event early. Another benefit is that you increase the chances of meeting the person who organized or is hosting the event. is is a good person to know. If you are new to the particular group or event, you can mention this to the host and ask to be introduced to specific people. For example, you might say: “I am an accountant and would be very interested in meeting small business owners.” Or, “I am trying to meet someone who works with XYZ Company. Do you know if anyone from that company will be at this event?”

Remember, the key to networking is helping other people. If you ask for an introduction, it is important to o er your assistance. You may say, “As an accountant, I am able to refer people to nancial advisors, so if there is anyone here who is looking for a nancial advisor, I would be happy to make the introduction.” Or say, “As an accountant, I o er a free 30-minute consultation to non-pro t rms on how to run their bookkeeping. If there are any nonpro t organizations represented at this event, I would be happy to speak with them.” By doing this, you have also helped the organizer create a win-win-win situation for others attending.

Also, if you meet one of the event’s organizers, volunteer to help plan the next networking event or spread the word through a social media campaign. By helping to plan an event, you’ll naturally meet other people and build your network at the same time.

Networking Hint. . . arrive early

If you’re attending an event at which you don’t know many people, arrive early. Unlike being fashionably late to a social function, arriving early at a networking event makes it easier to become part of the party instead of feeling like you’ve arrived at a party that has started without you.

At the Networking Event – You’re On!

For people nervous about networking, showing up to a networking event may be the biggest hurdle of all. I hope that by preparing for that inevitable question, “What do you do?” you feel more con dent and less anxious. If not, spend more time practicing and rehearsing your short and long responses. Practice your dialogue with an iPhone, voice recording app, video recorder, or a friend.

The moment has arrived. You are attending a networking event or will be in a situation where you know networking will occur.

Examples of networking conversations

These are highly simplified examples, but they do emphasize several key points. First, in my experience, 99 percent of networking situations begin with ”What do you do?” You will be ready to answer effectively if you’ve prepared and practiced a short response that includes a hook and you have a well thought out long response. Is your hook eliciting the follow-up question or comment you intend? If not, consider changing it. It’s impossible to predict with certainty how people will respond, but being prepared will enable you to modify your answers as necessary.

Second, because you are prepared for the opening part of the networking conversation, the rest will probably flow smoothly. The result: better outcomes in relationship building. There is a lot more to establishing and maintaining a professional network than an introductory conversation. Of course, your responses will change as your career develops. Your responses also may vary with your goals for a particular networking situation.

Third, professional networking is not about a transaction (get- ting a job, making a sale, acquiring a client, investor, etc.). Instead, it is about building a mutually beneficial relationship in which the mutual bene t accrues over time. e examples here focus only on one side of the conversation. Your preparation and approach to the networking conversation might help guide the person to whom you are speaking if they are less well prepared or less comfortable.

Finally, always enter a networking event or situation with the mindset of what you can do to help someone else. As you are looking for these opportunities, you can help others help you by clearly describing what you do and whom you’d like to meet.

LinkedIn is a tool for networking

LinkedIn is a tool for networking, but not a substitute. It allows you to stay informed about what your network is doing and easily contribute leads, information, support, and other information. Don’t confusion social media tools with building a genuine, professional relationship with another person.

Where to find networking opportunities

There are formal networking groups and informal networking opportunities all around. Most people can identify three to five convenient opportunities without much effort. A networking opportunity isn’t always labeled as such. Informal networking can happen anywhere. Here are a few suggestions for formal and informal networking opportunities:

  • Your own company or organization
  • Trade and professional organizatoins
  • Your alumni association
  • Your hobbies or interests
  • Local business and civic groups
  • Professional networking organizations
  • Meetup.com
  • or start your own. . .

THE GOLDEN RULE OF NETWORKING

All professional relationships require care and tending. Like a farmer who tends his field, the effective networker should not expect immediate results. Good networking cannot be rushed. Here are some additional points to remember while building your professional network:

  • Relationships are fragile and take years to build, but only seconds to destroy. Be mindful of the delicate nature of relationships.
  • Do for others as you would like others to do for you.
  • If you attend a networking event for the first time and are desperate to find a job, your desperation will make building a relationship dif cult.
  • Don’t expect to take from a group before you have first contributed.
  • Other people at a networking event may feel a sense of anxiety. Be the first to smile, shake someone’s hand and introduce yourself.