Networking. It's a bit like marmite. But love it or hate it, if you want to stay on the industry radar, remain current and - at the most basic level - continue interacting with real people (if, like me, you work from the solitary confines of your home office) then, it's a must-do.
At a recent - and very enjoyable - networking event I attended, I found myself wondering why networking is often considered a necessary evil. Is it because we feel we have to sell ourselves and are inherently bad at self-promotion? Is it because we worry about walking into a room of mostly strangers or more precisely, worry about what we should be saying to these strangers? Is it because we're experiencing a kind of FOMO anxiety - we can't possibly talk to everyone in this room can we ? Or is it because we have to put ourselves out there - out of our comfort zone? And yet, the life coaches will tell you that this is where the magic happens, when we push ourselves out of the everyday.
So as all good PR and marketing experts would do, I decided it was time to conduct some market research. At my next networking event, I duly dropped in a few networking related questions to my unsuspecting subjects: "Do you come to these kind of events often?"; "What do you feel you get out of them?"; "What is your aim in attending these kinds of events?". The responses ranged from "I chose this particular event because it was being hosted at a brewery" (fair enough, I'm with you there!) to "I'd had enough of being cooped up in the office and needed to take a break" (yep, that too!) to "keeping yourself on the radar and building relationships with potential clients who don't need us all the time but might simply want to ask a question from time to time" (smart, one to adopt!). So, I think it's fair to say that we all have slightly different agendas and motivations when we select our networking platforms.
One of the conclusions I did reach is that it's a common misconception that networking is about the hard-sell. It's NOT. No-one wants to be sold to. Not surprisingly, no-one actually said that they were there to make a sale. OK, so we all swapped business cards and I even connected an accountant with a business owner who was looking for an accountant, so that was a prime example of the benefits of networking, right? But hands up, if you enjoy discovering new things or solving problems or what about the old saying "a problem shared, is a problem halved"? For me, this is the essence of networking. It's about being truthful about our business journeys, building new professional relationships through common ground. It's about letting people know who you are and building trust. It's about comparing notes and sharing your business headaches and maybe even finding a solution. Personally, I enjoy learning a bit more about the companies around me, sharing a moment and finding out what people's biggest business challenges are.
So with that in mind, here are my top takeaways to ease the pain of working a room full of strangers: