So many times I’ve walked into a networking session, wondering if I really was up for it. You’ve probably been there too. Tired from a long day at work. Pre-occupied with home obligations. And thinking “now I’ve got to spend an hour talking with people I don’t know!”
These are the times I have to remind myself that networking can be fun a positive experience. I just have to change my focus.
In the book Work the Pond! Use the Power of Positive Networking to Leap Forward in Work and Life, the authors define networking as “discovering if you can do something nice for someone.” That may seem very different from the way you think about networking, but it might help you in the ways it has helped me.
For one, it takes the focus off myself. Like many scientists, I am an introvert. I used to get very nervous before events. I used to go over my elevator pitch again and again, focusing more on the things I wanted to say, and less on what others were saying. Plus, chatting with people at networking events felt very selfish. I’d find myself just looking for ways that others could help me. By moving that focus off myself, I feel much more comfortable and at ease.
If you can help someone, you will also make a good first impression. And your help doesn’t have to be a solution to a huge problem. If you’re talking about things to do around the city, then you can just suggest a good restaurant you’ve been to. It shows that you are listening and that you really care about developing relationships. And it also can make you memorable to a new contact.
Thinking about helping others also makes follow-up with new contacts easier. Following up with new contacts is one of the most challenging and underappreciated parts of networking. But if you find an article you that might interest a new contact, then crafting a follow up email will be so easy and natural to write.
So, the next time you are dreading attending that networking event, think about positive networking. Try to focus on what you can do for the other people you meet. It will be easier on you, and you will have left a great impression with someone who might be able to help you in the future.