How to network like a BOSS (when you’re not a social butterfly)
Ah, networking… some people make it look so easy! They flit from person to person at events, all charm and wit, making the bubbly sweeter and the conversations richer. But what about the rest of us? How can we network effectively, when we’re less social butterfly and more… uh… antisocial moth?
After attending a few networking events this year, I’ve decided that networking as we know it, really isn’t for me. But self-promotional conversations at large events is really just one idea of what networking is. In truth, networking can be any type of connection with other people for a specific purpose. There is no in-built requirement for schmooze, charm, manipulation or boring small talk. It does not have to be ‘making business friends on masse’. There is no essential component of attending big events, eating tiny pastries filled with pastel goo, or even meeting with people in real life.
Let’s strip it down to the basics – what do we actually need from networking?
- To connect with people in the industry we work in (or would like to work in)
- To find out about current opportunities – like jobs, training, trips, events or excellent people
- To create contacts so we can find out about future opportunities
I don’t know about you, but I’m more open to opportunities and create better connections when I’m feeling like a BOSS, that is: confident, in my element, in a state of comfort and ease.
Let’s drop our ideas of ‘networking’, okay? Here are five ways to network like a boss when you’re no social butterfly, with added inspiration from my antisocial spirit moth, Marvel’s Jessica Jones.
#1 Ask your friends and colleagues
It’s likely that you already have some pretty strong networks, already. People who know and trust you and would buy you a sandwich if you left your EFTPOS card at home.
So, go ask your contacts! Ask your family, friends, hapū, colleagues, managers, Mum’s BFF or that lecturer who gave you an A for your paper on how Game of Thrones represented apocalyptic climate change. Together, they know hundreds of people they could hook you up with on a business-friend-date.
Don’t just casually mention – “By the way, I’m thinking about getting into environmental law…?”
Do ask directly – “Hey, Auntie Dora, do you know any good environmental lawyers from your job at the courthouse you could introduce me to?”
#2 Targeted one-on-ones
What’s better than spending an hour introducing yourself to dozens of people at an industry event? Spending half an hour eating quinoa salad and drinking Gingerella with someone whose work you respect and admire.
Avoid mega-events with targeted one-on-ones: ask specific people to meet with you for a specific period of time to talk about a specific topic. For example, “Hi Professor Pankhurst, I’m new to digital campaigning and I loved your work on the 2018 Schools Anti Balloon Promise. Could I buy you lunch and ask how you got to where you are today?”
Do ask specific targeted questions you’ve prepared earlier and DO thank them profusely.
Don’t expect them to lead the conversation.
#3 Join actual networks online
Who says networking has to be offline? But get this straight: I’m not talking about connecting via LinkedIn or stalking your Green Architecture Idol with hilarious gifs until she finally bans you from her Facebook page.
There are real networks that you can join online, where real people share professional resources.You can search for them yourself, but it’s far more effective to ask your study-buddies or colleagues for suggestions.
Do actively participate in conversations.
Don’t just lurk.
#4 Get a wing-person
What’s better than mooching around at an event having pre-scripted conversations with people talking about how great they are? Doing it with a friend!
But seriously, bringing a wing-person to an industry event can make you far more comfortable and increase your chances of connecting with new people. Ask a colleague at work if they’d like to accompany you, or make a deal with a friend that you’ll be their wing-person at their Annual Vegan Chef Meet-up next January.
Do create a code word you can use if you need to leave a conversation quickly.
Don’t go overboard on the bubbly.
#5 Take on a role at an event
Taking on a role at an event can minimize anxiety, showcase your skills in real time and help you connect to the right people. Roles I’ve taken have included ‘camp mum’, ‘stage kitten’, ‘support person’, ‘stage manager’ and ‘door person’. They’ve allowed me to feel more at ease and created great opportunities to meet people.
Do find a role that showcases your skills and interests.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew and get stressed out. Stressed does not impress your future employers and colleagues and general admirers.
Are you with me, antisocial moths? Let’s make networking work for us, not the other way around. Let’s hope these five ideas have got you inspired and draw networks to you like moths to a flame (or Jessica Jones to whiskey).