Industry – acting, gardening, banking, trading, is made up of good collaboration. That’s where you find out each others complementary strengths then build on them together. It is the DNA of business and it starts with conversations.  How can you have good conversations that lead to meaningful work? That is all that networking is. It is worth doing it before you need people as well.

Benefits of Networking

It helps you to raise your profile, keep you in touch with your field of interest, make allies, plus you will get fresh ideas and inspiration. It’s not about being a show-off. Quite the opposite, it’s about being of service to others and sharing your expertise.
Social media and direct messaging anyone you fancy makes things a lot easier to make connections. I can’t ever see it replacing the power of face-to-face meeting so that’s what I want to tackle here. 

Because it’s the scary bit right? Especially when you are an introvert. Please don’t discount yourself from making lots of connections because you are an “introvert”. All introvert means is that you have to go and get recharged after being social. This is because big groups are not where you get your dopamine hit from. Don’t let being an introvert stop you making nice connections and letting other people get a bit of your sparkle, just plan to have quiet time afterwards.

Susan Cain, speaker and author of Quiet: “We like to think that we value individuality, but all too often we admire one type of individual — the kind who’s comfortable “putting himself out there.” Sure, we allow technologically gifted loners who launch companies in garages to have any personality they please, but they are the exceptions, not the rule, and our tolerance extends mainly to those who get fabulously wealthy or hold the promise of doing so”.

Most of the world are ambiverts by the way, just saying. 
If you are out there in the world, starting to dip your toe back into work you might find yourself at something. An interesting talk that you found on Eventbrite, a Facebook group or Twitter that is specific to your field of interest. Perhaps an associate sent you a link to something. A 6 – 9pm type thing, with mingling and a few guest speakers. Alternatively a breakfast. 
But you know no-one, are not sure what you are going to say and certainly not how you would approach someone. Cue, thinking up an excuse not to go. 


Don’t do this!

Here’s what I do at one of these events. For the record, I am no extrovert. HR-y, recruiter-y types are supposed to love a bit of industry mingling. Not me, I have to make a conscious effort as I know I’ll be pleased when I’ve done it. 

How to Handle a Networking Event When You Hate Them

Here’s what works to prepare yourself:
1) Go with a desired outcome that is not too ambitious or loaded e.g. chat to three new people, and perhaps one individual that you have already identified you would like in your network
2) Give yourself a timeframe within which you will make some connections e.g. if its’ a speaker then drinks after for 1.5 hours, just stay for half an hour but be intentional in that time (not in the loo :))
3) Follow any social media coverage e.g. relevant hashtags before you go in so you know the topic and perhaps even make a connection before you go. Even a virtual community!
4) Prepare a killer question in advance that if you have the opportunity you ask the speaker. Especially if you want to have an ongoing relationship with them.
5) Have a couple of icebreakers: “How’s your day been so far/are you new to these events as well/I’m only talking to you because you’re near the crisps…”. You need to make these up so sound right coming out of your mouth. I did just Google “icebreakers” but the first two pages of results were for Tinder. It’s not the angle we’re looking for….
6) Load the Linkedin app so you can connect with people then and there …. or Instagram or Facebook, whichever is appropriate
7) Ask a friend to come as a wing woman..they can cover another corner of the room for you

When there:

8) Get there early and introduce yourself to the organiser, they can usually then introduce you to others
9) Don’t be afraid of just standing and smiling and regarding the room. Visualise a great big spiders’ web descending over all the delegates as you lure them in with you “you-ness”
10) Spot someone else who looks uncomfortable. Be the person who gets them involved in the room. Know that most are in the same boat as you.
11) Try and stay for the breaks – they really are when the good chatting happens. As Neil Munz Jones says in his Reluctant Networker book,  “Always focus on something you are interested in rather than something you SHOULD be involved with, you will find it much easier to be natural and to strike up relationships”.
12) Always offer to help build a relationship or make an introduction. “I spent quite a lot of time helping someone  talk through a  difficult period in their life (for both personal and professional reasons). As soon as she was back in work she gave me a project” This quote again from the Reluctant Networker. THAT IS HOW IT WORKS. 
13) Straight after, get yourself organised Linking in, sharing articles, putting contacts down to follow up with if you’ve agreed to do it.

Remember, all it is is finding common ground. If you’ve got friends, you know how to do it. If you’ve held down a job, you are professionally credible. Go in giving yourself a chance to actually enjoy it. You actually only need a small circle to create a massive ripple effect and you don’t have to go to EVERYTHING. Just cherry pick one or two events and see how you go.