How to Network Better and Where to Network Easily (asides networking events)
Ever heard the phrase "you’re only six degrees of separation away from anyone in the world?" So you should know a friend who in five steps can connect you with anyone in the world. When we put it that way, no one seems so out of reach yes? And there-in lies the power of networking. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my career in recent times, it’s the power of networking - the ability to interact with others and develop professional or social connections.
But the real essence of networking - is the ability to build these relationships before you need them. One must learn how to approach people, talk to them, maintain small talk conversation (even when it seems unneccesary), remember their pet’s name and generally have a laugh. It’s a skill that’s so important, as when push comes to shove what makes one outstanding is really how you get along with others. Many people want to work with people they truly like and can crack a joke with in the midst of work pressure. Customers would rather purchase items from a business owner who’s personable. Employers and bosses tend to promote people with a large network which can benefit the organisation. So wherever you fall, it’s necessary.
And sometimes, it’s such a pain. Why do you have to do all of this? I have no mind-blowing answer for that, so we better move along to how it can be done.
Honestly, there isn’t particularly any top secret, but the one thing to say is that networking has to be intentional. You need to feel the fear but do it anyway. It needs to be at the forefront of your mind at all time.
Perhaps this is why I sometimes find strict "networking events" tasking. There’s already so much pre-built pressure. You’re expected to “network” but as is everyone else there. You may want to network with people "up the ladder", but those people who you’d ordinarily single out would rather network with others higher up. What a pain.
And so it’s back to the point of realising networking ought to be a constant K in your daily routine.
Consider these “unusual” places to network
Your Commute (Trains, Buses or Airplanes)
If there’s one thing you probably do everyday it’s a daily commute or some time spent in transit - on the bus, trains or well, air planes. If you drive more often or take a private jet perhaps this may not apply - but other than that, your commute is a good place to strike up conversation and network. I know it can be hard, because everyone seems to be either scrolling through social media, reading a book or have their ears plugged. And well, if it's the underground at rush hour with sticky bodies pressed against you, making conversation is the last thing you want to do. But don’t be deterred - the commute usually offers an opportunity to meet with people from different background. So strike a conversation: ask where they’re headed, what book they’re reading, their thoughts on recent events - anything. Ofcourse, let your instincts guide you and if it doesn’t seem to be working, cut it off to try another day.
It can also be okay to initiate a conversation based on what you overhear - it’s not eavesdropping if it's public anyway and you hear something (not private or personal business) that you may be able to relate to. My ears generally tend to perk up when I hear anything lawyer related, and one time my seat mate who was apparently top executive at a foremost UK bank kept referring to some legal corporate governance that I had recently become familiar with - and I picked up conversation on that. Got home and told my husband who I had met - and he turned out to be a valuable resource for a project my husband was working on then. I put them in touch and voila!
I think public restrooms/ bathrooms are underrated as a networking opportunity. Well, not those one cubicle kind of bathrooms with pungent smell that you can’t wait to get out of. But larger, nicer, cleaner bathrooms at work, restaurants, or events - where you take your time to powder your nose, take a ton of selfies and sometimes just appreciate the vibe. As ladies very often spend a good amount of time in here, it’s so easy to strike up a conversation. But you have to know what to talk about.
It's the bathroom - so you probably shouldn't say "hello, nice to meet you!”.
- “oh nice lipstick”.
- “absolutely love this dress on you!” - a compliment is always a good idea.
From then on it’s an easy flow
- “not seen you around here - just joined the team? let’s catch up later - I'll send an email”
- “any weekend plans? … oh I’m totally doing that as well this weekend”
- “surprising how many people actually made it to this event / conference!” - “I hope we see before the event is over again, but we may not so why don't I just add you up on Linkedin / Instagram and we chat later?”
And just like that - you could go from a coincidental bathroom buddy to BFFs. Ofcourse you actually need to follow up and keep in touch for that to happen.
Apply the same to elevators and queues too. (you’ve definitely seen in the movies and romance novels how one meets a significant person in an elevator!)
You’re probably thinking “if it’s an existing relationship, then the person is in my network. why and how can I still network here”. But that you know someone and they know of you, doesn’t exactly mean the person is of value to you. The key to networking within existing relationships is to realise that situations change. Are you keeping track of your existing network and their growth? Asides that, are you actually fostering and maintaining your relationships. Are you sending the occasional email, meeting up once in a while? Food for thought.
Leisure / Social Activities
I know, I know. Some people just want to get their work out in the gym, burn the calories and head out without speaking to a human. And it’s fine, we’d ignore those and respect their wishes.
Notwithstanding, leisure and social activities remain a great place to network, because for starters - you already share an interest or similarity. It’s easier said than done though. The first time I attended a baby play class, I had it on my mind to network and mingle. But it just seemed tough particularly as all the other mommas seemed at ease, knew each other, and I was the newbie. But next time, I’m not leaving without adding one person to my network. So whether you have swimming classes, wine tasting, football, whatever you do for leisure (other than nextflixing and being on your couch) is a great place opportunity to network.
“It all goes down in the DM!”
We can’t really talk about all of the above offline networking without talking about online networking. We spend so much time on social media (as much as we hate to admit) that it better add value to our network. At my surprise baby shower, it almost got a tad awkward when many of my friends there, I had met on social media.
Social media networks don’t have to be fickle - if you’re certain of what you want and you have the right approach, the connection is bound to click. So don’t waste time just scrolling through - if you’d like to connect with someone, then go for it.
For those who only scrolled to the end of this piece, the key to networking is to simply go abut your daily life, wear a smile and be intentional about it. Whether it's finding a common ground to initiate a conversation or scheduling weekly time slots to go through LinkedIn and meet new people, do it!
Do you consider yourself a good networker? what's your fave place + tips? Not a fan of it - what are your challenges - let’s discuss!