It’s a familiar refrain, and one that I used to resort to often: “I’m just terrible at networking.”
But a common thread I notice between many people who say this, myself included, is that they had only spent time going to stereotypical networking events. You know, the ones that are just big rooms full of strangers, where you’re supposed to hope the weak cocktail you were given will be enough social lubricant to help you forge a real connection? That sounds like my personal hell, and it’s somewhere I’m highly unlikely to succeed at my efforts to network.
That’s why I was so drawn to Marcelle Yeager of U.S. News’ idea about networking in your comfort zone. It’s a concept I’ve been quietly advocating for a while, but didn’t have a name for. The idea, as Yeager explains, is that “there is not only one type of networking.”
And while her advice was geared toward introverts, I think it could apply to anyone who has trouble with the traditional model of networking. Instead of just thinking you’re bad at it because you don’t do well at a certain type of event, think of other venues where you could succeed in making new connections. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Get to Know the People Around You Better
Odds are, there are plenty of people in your extended network who would be able to help you out, if you only knew enough about them to know to ask! Think about the people you interact with from time to time—through your work, your alma mater, and organizations or activities you’ve participated in—and identify people who you know but could know better.
Think about people who you’ve never been quite sure what they do exactly, or someone who you’ve always been curious about. Then, reach out to them and see if they’d like to get together. The nice thing about this is that you’ve already met these people and have some sort of connection, so you can get right into the good stuff.
I’m always impressed with how bloggers seem to make such great connections with people across the world, simply because they interact with them online. If you don’t feel comfortable doing the awkward get-to-know-you thing IRL, why not try this same strategy? Participate in Twitter chats around areas you’re passionate about, or reach out to people you admire on Twitter or LinkedIn. Start a blog or start writing guest posts to spark discussion among people in your industry.
Not sure how to do this effectively? Find something you have in common, slowly build the relationship over multiple interactions, and consider being up front and reaching out directly if you have a specific ask.
If you live so much of your life online already, why not start your networking there, too? The key, though, is to start. Ultimately, you want to move this relationship offline and meet in person (or over video chat if you’re across the world) to help deepen the connection.
Join a Club, Class, or Conference
One of my favorite ways to connect with new people is to work on a project together. Collaborating toward a common goal feels like such a more natural way to start a new relationship—plus, they actually have first-hand experience with your skills and abilities, rather than just hearing you talk about them.
So find a club, class, conference, workshop, hackathon, or anything of the like to get involved with. It doesn’t even have to relate to your work. Pick something you’re passionate about, and the connections will be much more likely to grow. And, hey, you might find an opportunity that you never knew existed but that you’d really love.
Invite People to Your Home
Really don’t want to seek out the networking? Bring the networking to you! Try hosting a dinner party or cocktail hour at your home, inviting a smattering of your friends and connections, and asking each of them to bring along one person you don’t already know.
You’ll have the homefield advantage of being in a place you really feel comfortable, plus you’ll get to broaden your network through pre-existing connections. And these people are going to be predisposed to like you and want to talk to you since you’re hosting them!
This is just the start. If you allow yourself to get a little creative, you’re bound to find a method of networking that you’re really, really good at.
Here’s to no more painful ballroom events, ever.