When someone says the word networking, what images pop into your mind?
Intimidating cocktail parties? Sleazy sales guys? Forced, shallow conversations?
Elevator pitches (as if anyone actually talks in elevators)? Pushy agendas? Lots of taking but no giving?
What if networking could be reclaimed? Restored to its original intent.
Instead of being sleazy, we serve. Instead of being consumed with our message, we focused on theirs. Instead of pushing, we listened.
My professional career began in 2004 as a bottom of the totem pole sales guy for Mizzou Athletics. With no sales training, no manual and very little professional confidence, I was functionally told, “good luck, holler if you need anything”.
I had an awesome boss, great teammates and a solid product to sell, but the sales industry is sink or swim.
And with a tiny baby at home with Brooke, I had to figure out how to swim pretty quickly.
Throughout the years, I screwed up the networking thing a lot. I was selfish, had the wrong motives, and had terrible expectations at times.
But I learned some lifelong lessons about networking that have produced meaningful results (way beyond financial).
Here are five practical ways to reclaim networking:
- Listen. In group settings, sales meetings and networking functions, we talk too much. Shut up. Learn how to be an amazing question asker, an engaged conversationalist, a genuine listener. Don’t look past people for the next conversation, instead look right in the eyes of the person in front of you and listen to what they’re saying. When you are really listening to people, you’ll be amazed how quickly trust is built.
- Connect. People are starving for meaningful connections. Life and business are both hard. We weren’t meant to go alone. Don’t hoard your network, connect the dots for people. Start a FB group for like-minded folks, send emails introducing two other people that don’t benefit you immediately, give away your connections.
- Initiate. No matter if it’s a CEO or a brand new associate, everyone feels awkward at networking events. We all fly to the familiar. But learn to take tiny brave steps of initiating conversation. Approach people first. Action leads to activity, some of which may completely change your life. Your other option is to stand in the corner with the people you already know and complain about how lame the event / conference / party / whatever is.
- Love. Weird concept for networking huh? Love people and watch what starts to happen to the influence you have in your network. Take conversations deeper than the surface. Find out what makes people tick. Treat them like a friend not a transaction. Love wins, even at work.
- Serve. Sharks, ruthless, win at all costs, what’s in it for me. That’s the typical stereotype of of a successful businessperson and connected professional. But there is real beauty, value and influence to be gained by serving not demanding. Giving not taking.
There is huge power in a strong network, and there are direct benefits to you for cultivating that network.
Let’s shift from stereotypical networking to influential networking.