Posted by: communicationcloud | August 6, 2009

An embarrassing little secret

My name’s Rachel and … erm … <nervous cough> … well …okay, here goes. My name’s Rachel and I enjoy networking.

There. I’ve said it.

Actually, you’re not the first person I’ve told about this. But usually when I tell people, they look at me like I’ve just told them that I enjoy squeezing other people’s spots, or that my favourite job around the house is cleaning out the gunk that gets stuck in the u-bend. With my tongue.

Networking is awkward and unpleasant…

The networking I’m talking about here is the face-to-face, in-person type. When I talk with people more about this, it emerges that they have some assumptions that do make it seem genuinely a bit scary.

Networking myth #1

Here’s a common assumption I’ve heard:

People who network are ultra-confident, slick businessy types who are in their element approaching complete strangers and doing business deals on the spot.

Rubbish! There might be a bit of this going on, but there are always lots of nervous, uncomfortable people who are giving it a go too.

And networking isn’t about quick wins – instant business deals or job offers – it’s a slower process, of building up a network (hence the name) of mutual benefit. Eventually this can turn into business deals or job offers – that’s the point of doing it – but very rarely right away.

There might be networking contexts where the opposite is true, but they’re not contexts I’ve ever come across.

Myth #2

No-one’s going to want to talk to me: I’m just a technical author / trapeze artist / CEO

Piffle! Technical authors, trapeze artists and CEOs exist because people need them (yes, even CEOs are necessary). And there are going to be some people who will be pleased to hear about your skills and experiences or share your interests, even though they haven’t heard of the job you do. There will also be some people who want to tell you about who they are and what they can do.

But there will be some people who have a very specific idea of what they want to get out of networking (e.g. find a job immediately) … and they might not spend time talking to you. But they’re the minority, and you wouldn’t get much out of spending time with them anyway!

Myth #3

It’s awkward and uncomfortable to start a conversation with a stranger.

I don’t disagree with this. But in spite of that, it’s easy to get going with a few standard questions. I don’t think it hurts to start with the very basic “so what do you do?” It’s not particularly original, but the chances are, the person will be relieved that you’ve broken the ice, and the conversation will rapidly steer itself into something less formulaic.

I’d love to hear what other people’s favourite ice-breakers questions are, though?

So why network?

So… networking is not as scary or unpleasant as people sometimes think it is. But why do it at all: what’s the point?

1. Market yourself. I know the “M” word is a dirty one in some circles, but unless your life currently has everything you’ll ever need in it, you do need to tell people who you are and what you’re good at. And that’s all I mean by “marketing yourself”: letting people know that you exist, and putting the idea in people’s minds that you might be useful to them.

At least equally importantly, you also need to listen to what other people are trying to do. This helps you see yourself in a new light – and work out new ways you might be useful to them.

2. Meet people who can help you. Next time you’re asked to run a project to set up a crocodile zoo in  your company’s lobby, would you rather start from cold, or be able to dig out the phone number of that crocodile tamer you met 6 months ago at a networking breakfast?

Maybe you also enjoy the warm glow of helping someone else too? I know that’s not something everyone “gets”, but if it is your thing, then there will be plenty of opportunity for that.

3. Curiosity. I’m just a nosey sort of person, and I’m fascinated by range of people, jobs and lifestyles out there. That’s not such a good reason, but it is part of my drive.

I’m convinced: networking is not so bad after all. How do I start?

There are no good reasons for not doing it, and a couple of good reasons for doing it. I think you should get yourself out there, if you’re not there already.

Start small: go and have a chat to the new starter in your company (remember, it doesn’t matter that they’re not working on your team or on anything that’s on you’re involved in). And then maybe go to a talk that relates to your profession – there’ll usually be a chance to chat over coffee too. And then, when you’re ready, get yourself to a more general event.

Maybe it won’t be as bad as you thought.

Hopefully you’ll get something out of it.

Maybe you’ll even like it …

… and then I won’t feel so embarrassed next time I admit that I enjoy it too.

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Responses

  1. There’s probably a support group you could join, to help you with this problem – meet like-minded people with a similar issue, get to know them, swap contact details….

    Oh.

  2. Thanks Brian. I’d really love to hear whether you know of such a group? Perhaps we could set one up as some sort of joint business venture…

    Look at that: networking in action;)

  3. Great post but do you really want to know what other people’s favourite ice-breakers questions are. That’s dangerous territory 😉

  4. […] } I couldn’t help smiling when I read this post on the Communication Cloud blog. Well worth a read if you fancy a bit of light […]

  5. If you want a network of people with skills, knowledge, and connections, try participating in actitivies that require these attributes. If you don’t have these attributes, why would anyone want to be in your network? Work from your strengths, make them available to others, and (in particular) partner with like-minded people to do interesting things.

  6. […] A few honest truths about networking […]


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