I wasn’t always a fan of “networking.” You know…talking to people, building bridges, chit-chatting for reasons possibly unknown to you at the time, but perhaps later on down the road would be a useful investment of your time…but at the time you don’t realize this. In college I couldn’t stand making small talk in the office where I worked part-time.
“Hello, how are you?”
“Fine thanks, how are you?”
“Good. How was your weekend?”
Blah, blah, blah. In my college-aged brain I was screaming I DON’T CARE ABOUT YOUR WEEKEND.
That was before I saw the big picture of networking.
We live in a community. Most of us couldn’t get along very well in life without other people. We need people. People need us. It’s a necessary, symbiotic relationship for survival.
The more you develop genuine, respectful relationships, the less conflict you’re likely to have. Networking will help you get along better with others. More doors will open for you. You’ll gain connections. You’ll have the opportunity to help others, and in return they might help you at some point. It goes on and on.
In short, networking is a good thing. A necessary thing. But, for many people, it’s a skill that must be developed.
In my community activism, networking has proven to be a requirement. I had to learn to do it. I continue to get better at it, but it takes a lot of practice.
It’s also a skill I need to have as a writer. Writers have to pitch their work. They need people to read their work. (There is the needing people thing again.)
So in the spirit of needing to network for whatever we are pursuing in life, I wanted to pull together a few of the lessons I learned.
Networking #1: Know Your Message
Know what you need to talk to people about. In writing they call it your “elevator speech.” You have a few seconds to summarize what it is you want people to know. Ready, set, go! It helps to know it in advance. It helps to practice it. I’m not saying memorization–that comes across as robotic and boring. Really know what you want to say. Also know the purpose of why you’re talking about something. What are you looking for?
Networking #2: Get Out There
I’ve learned that volunteering and participating is a huge way to network with people. I wasn’t a participator in high school or college. If I could go back in time, I would be. But I wasn’t. At least I wasn’t on an involved scale–I just did things here and there. These days I’m signing up for holiday breakfast committees, city committees, professional committees and all sorts of committees. I often hear from my dad or mom questions like “but why are you doing it for free?” It’s hard to explain to people who don’t value participation why exactly you do it. My reasons are: I learn a lot, I gain new skills that can be transferred, I get my name out there and I meet new people and network.
It’s important to note that you should network with people beyond your industry. In other words, don’t discount talking to somebody just because you think they don’t have anything to offer you at the moment. You never know what will happen in the future.
Take the time to introduce yourself to people–even to strangers. Push beyond your comfort zone. Go to events, even when you’d rather stay home in your pajamas.
Networking #3: Asking Questions
A great way to open dialogue is to ask other people questions–and then genuinely care to hear their answers. Open-ended questions are perfect. Also, the more relevant the questions are to what you are pursuing is great. Maybe you’re not the type to have something super witty to say. Fine. But anyone can ask other people questions.
Networking #4: Remembering
When you talk to people, remember what they tell you. I remember that so-and-so told me he is one in five boys. Another person told me they have a son and a daughter. I try to remember where people work and what they do. Birthdays, specials events, etc are great to know. I heard Bill Clinton kept an index card system where he wrote down information he learned about people and looked at the cards before meeting with the person. It’s actually a pretty good technique for those of you with short memory spans.
Networking #5: Be Helpful
Nobody wants to hang around somebody who takes, takes, takes. You need to have something to offer others too. You should help others. The more you help, the more help you will receive. It’s called reciprocity. By helping others, you will build your credibility, respect, and rapport with others. You should be sincere about helping others. Humans can sniff out insincere people from a mile away and it’s a big turn off. Plan to help others and expect to get nothing out of it–the payoff is long-term, and you won’t be able to see it right away in most cases. So don’t even expect it.
Networking #6: Keep in Touch
It’s necessary to keep the communication lines open. Email, call, text, Facebook message…whatever it takes…but stay in contact with the people. This is just one of the ways you can maintain a relationship. Also, I would add that face-to-face contact is ideal, if possible.
Networking #7: Be Reliable
People respect reliable, diligent people. If you say you’re going to call, then call. If you say you’ll make an appointment–make an appointment. Stick to your word. Don’t be a flake.
Networking #8: Get Thick Skin
People are going to say no to you. You may get ignored. People may disagree with you or try to discourage you. Don’t let it stop you are get you down. If something doesn’t work, try again. If somebody is rude or ignores you or rubs you the wrong way, don’t let it discourage you. A goal-oriented person doesn’t look for reasons to quit–they look for reasons to keep going.