Long gone are the days that networking was defined by an oh-so-clever (i.e. glaringly obvious) title such as “networking gala”, “wine and cheese”, “meet and greet”… the creative list goes on. Yes, the days in which business students and eager young graduates assumed the act of networking was accompanied by an on-and-off switch. During this time, we had to prepare ourselves to have (often inorganic and at times slightly awkward) conversations with people we didn’t know. We had to make sure we had our clutch or purse equipped with business cards, regardless of whether or not we actually had a title – or a job. This was how it was done, right? This was how you met people in the hopes of creating opportunity?
Or so we thought.
Although the end goal of creating opportunity is still the same, I have learned some very interesting things about the wonderful world of networking, and how it has changed. I’ll even let you keeners in on a secret that can save you some questioning, and even an awkward convo or two in the future. Here it is: the on-and-off switch doesn’t exist. Even scarier: the only mode that really exists is ON. You are always networking in some capacity.
While your conversations will eventually become less awkward and more organic, and that 30-second-elevator-pitch (about yourself, your company, your product, your service) will soon easily roll off your tongue, here are a couple things to keep in mind when you just may find yourself…are you ready for it…networking by accident!
How to network by accident
1. It’s a small world. No, really, it is!
This is a cliché, but a true one. Tons of connections are made and business transactions done in situations that occur by chance. The next time you meet your sister-in-law’s cousin’s friend’s sister, and they ask you about yourself, come prepared with something eloquent, short and sweet to summarize who you are. There is no need to brag about your accomplishments (personal or professional) but there is also no need to downplay them either. Be proud of who you are and what you do and find a short and respectful way of explaining it. Examples that evoke emotion in people allow them to relate. For example, perhaps you are a website designer who just helped a non-profit add an online donations section to their site, thereby doubling their monthly donation quota. That’s pretty cool!
Even cooler, although your new friend may have just asked about you to be polite, there is also a chance she may have a contact in need of a similar service. By confidently and briefly explaining what you do, there is more of a chance of making a connection with someone who shares a similar interest, or who is in need of a similar service. And by doing so, you just made a potential business connection on a Saturday afternoon over a glass of wine with a few new friends – in about 60 seconds.
Now, you can just go about your afternoon and hand her a card at the end of the visit to pass along to her contact. Doesn’t get much easier than that, does it?
2. There is great power in being genuine (and just plain nice).
Most people can very quickly sense the quality of being genuine. Sometimes we tend to overthink things and forget what an impact we can have by simply being authentic and kind. Rather than thinking about networking as a sales exercise or sales pitch, take a moment to stop trying to impress (and cram as much information into 60 seconds as possible), but rather give open and honest answers about yourself, your career and your accomplishments. Women, in particular, have a tendency to downplay their successes. There is a genuine way to talk about yourself and those things you have achieved, without coming across as bragging. So go ahead and explain your accomplishments. But remember: no matter whom you meet or how you meet them, when they ask you a question, use the opportunity to give genuine answers. And when you ask them questions, make sure to listen to their answers, and not just wait for your turn to speak. This is how good relationships – both personal and professional – are built.
And as always, if there is mutual opportunity or even potential opportunity, be sure to leave your card or contact information. Chances are that person will remember you as being a genuine and pleasant person with whom they have already built a trusting relationship. And they will likely remember you in the future if they meet someone who could benefit from your expertise.
And there you have it… you networked and didn’t even know it!