Networking always seems like one of those necessary evils of the modern business world, doesn't it? We all know we need to make and maintain great connections, but we all dread networking events, tedious small talk, and the awkwardness of trying to make a connection that sticks.
But what if networking didn't have the be as excruciating as a root canal? What if effortless networking could actually exist?
I'm here to tell you that it's possible. Networking can come with a natural ease that you didn't even know you had. It doesn't have to feel awkward. It doesn't have to feel stilted. And it's not difficult to master. All it takes is a level of self-awareness and social finesse to get the job done.
Here's how to start.
4 Steps to Mastering Effortless Networking in the Modern Workplace
1) Be a man with a plan.
Networking events can feel aimless if you go into without a plan. You'll mill around for five to six unfruitful hours and unload a few business cards if you don't know what you're doing before you get there. So first things first: set a time limit. This doesn't mean you will leave at a certain time, but it means you'll allow yourself to leave at a certain time. Remember, you have to respect your own time. You're busy and your time is important. Don't waste it.
Second, set a goal. How many meaningful connections do you want to make? Two? Four? More? What's your definition of meaningful? Define it. If you go in knowing these things, you will have purpose and confidence as you move through the room.
2) Read the unspoken signals.
Being able to read individuals and read a room is such a good skill to develop. Body language is key. If people are turned inward and talking intimately, for example, it's not a great idea to interrupt their conversation to try to make a connection. A more boisterous, less close conversation, however, likely invites new faces to join in. Are people being open to you, or closed off? What is the tone?
Look for people who are alone and facing the crowd. They clearly want to join in, but have not. They have an unspoken desire to approach or be approached, so take the opportunity. Look for open body language, smiles, and eye contact. These are all positive indicators. By the same token, respect negative indicators. At the very least, it will be a waste of your time to pursue these individuals.
3) Reel yourself in and strike the right balance.
There can be a temptation at networking events to toot one's horn. You want to impress and make others want to make a connection with you. You want to be seen as desirable. Valuable. But talking about who you know, where you went to school, or how much money you make is not going to accomplish what you think it will.
Reel it in. Instead, think about what qualities you have that make you someone that people want to be around and work with. Display these qualities. Talk about your vision and purpose. Strike the right balance between talking about achievements, goals, and success while also focusing on more personable aspects of yourself.
You want to form real connections, not simply strut.
4) Be real and be open.
Small talk serves a purpose, but by and large, people hate it. It can be a real drag. While it is necessary to go through basic questions, try to get to some meat. Be real with people. Be open to them. These are the things that they remember and the things that form honest, genuine connections: when you talk about your goals, hopes, and ambitions. When you have vision and passion.
Listen, too. Actively listen and engage with others and their stories and ask better questions. Go deeper than the surface. This will guarantee that the connections you make are more than skin deep.
And remember, though you are networking as a professional, you don't have to be rigid. Be polite (always), but be friendly, too. You can relax and be yourself. People want to meet and know real people, not facades. Don't make the mistake of manufacturing a networking mask just to make connections. Be you, but better.
Treat individuals as individuals, not as projects. Invest in their lives and ambitions just as you hope they will yours.
This is the key to authentic and meaningful networking.
What, for you, is the best networking experience you've ever had? Share it with me in the comments.