Network Without the Desperation

Career Blog

People dread networking events because they can feel like the business equivalent of a “meat market” style night club where attendees replace the cheesy “How you doing? (insert creepy wink)” with a “What do you do? (insert fake, wait for my turn to talk – smile)”.

You can, however, make networking more meaningful and effective by aiming for quality of conversation over the number of business cards collected. To do this, simply shift your full focus to other people’s needs. It might sound counterintuitive, but by letting go of your agenda and actively listening to the other person, you will quickly establish rapport, and in doing so, leave the individual with a positive impression. The trick is learning to temporarily let go of your desired outcome.

One way to accomplish this is to simply make it a goal-oriented game. This level-up strategy is particularly effective for both type As and introverts, who detest purposeless small talk. For example, if attending an hour-long networking event, gamify the situation by attempting to talk to at least five people long enough to do the following:

  1. Learn the Basics: What do they do professionally and for fun?
  2. Play Reporter: Express interest by digging into the whys: Why they got into the profession or hobby. Why it’s important to them. And, even why they came to the event.
  3. Be a Connector: Ask if there is specific help they are looking for an introduction to someone, a job lead, or a great, low-cost computer whiz who can help them with their website. The topic doesn’t matter as much as you ask. You may not be able to help on the spot, but sometimes you can. In those cases, do so, and you’ll earn a new fan. If not, promise to keep an eye out… and honestly do so.
  4. Play Escape Artist: Briefly mention what you do and why you are there. As a way of closing, express a desire to continue the conversation, then allow them to network with others. If they can help you, they’ll say so. If not, they’ll appreciate the tactful exit and walk away with a good impression.

When you use the game technique, you get to be yourself and avoid the feeling of “cheapness” that can sometimes infiltrate the sensibilities of those new to networking. Best of all, you leave your conversation counterparts wanting more, which can lead to a more meaningful, mutually beneficial follow-up.

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