What is Networking and Should You Fear It?

Let me ask you something. Do you enjoy networking?Networking phobia

By networking I mean the face to face variety.

It tends to be a marmite thing – you either love it or hate it. Me – I hate it.

When someone mentions networking to me, I immediately envisage a room full of people desperate to sell, but no one wanting to buy.

But networking doesn’t only happen that way.

Networking – the social side

Social media has opened a whole new way to network.

In my experience (and yes, there are exceptions and we’ll take about those later), most people who use social networking sites are there to chat, exchange ideas, offer advice and to generally have fun.

Did you see that? I used networking and fun in the same sentence.

It’s almost as though, because you’re not all cooped up in a room, people relax and chat more. They don’t feel as though they must leave with at least one sales lead (which, incidentally, is never the best mind-set for networking).

Of course, there are still those who believe that networking is equivalent to spamming. On social networking you see it through constant promotional posts and tweets; in real life is it the guy who immediately hands you a brochure before even saying hello.

One of the main benefits of social networking is that you can do it from your desk. If you’re snowed under it’s often difficult to make time to get out to an organised event. But if you dabble on the social side, you can easily fit in a few posts and tweets whilst sat at your desk.

After you…

There is another type of networking – you probably don’t even think of it as networking – and that’s when you meet people in everyday life.

How many times have you struck up a conversation with someone in the school playground, in the bus queue or on the train, and ended up talking about work?

It’s one of those questions you naturally ask someone you meet someone for the first time.

This type of conversation often leads to finding out interesting information because it’s far more informal and the person you’re speaking with is less likely to launch into their well-rehearsed sales pitch when not in a traditional networking environment.

Striking up a conversation

So we’ve looked at social networking and ‘free-styling’, but what about those dreaded formal situations? How do you make the most of them?

I don’t know about you, but my biggest problem with networking events is breaking into groups already chatting, especially if you don’t know anyone there.

If you have any strategies about that I’d love to hear them.

Normally, I’ll take the route of finding someone who’s also on the fringes and try to chat to them. Rather than opening with ‘Hello, my name is Sally and I’m a copywriter’, I usually ask a question about them – normally not work related.

If it’s a lady and she happens to be wearing a striking necklace, I’ll comment on it and start a conversation that way. Basically, I’ll comment on anything other than work, that way I get to know them as a person rather than them as a business.

That’s just my way of coping – what do you do?

Leave a comment below and see what tips we can muster between us to make your networking more effective (and less scary).


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#1 Lucy Smith on 05.10.12 at 1:19 am

The reason people freak out about networking is because they immediately feel either pressured to sell or pressured to buy. But think of it as building relationships and getting to know people. No pressure, you just have a chat to them. It may or may not immediately end up with you getting work, but people really need to get to know you and trust you first.

Networking events don’t have to be a big scary room of people talking in groups of three – tonight I’m going to a business networking thing that’s a comedy night at a local bar. It’ll be fun! (Though, to be fair, it’s a group that I’m a regular of so most of us at least know each other in passing.)

Oh – and breaking into groups? Usually the groups don’t know each other either, so if you just wander on up there’s no harm done. Even just make a joke out of it: “Hey, mind if I butt in here? You look interesting.” Usually they’ll laugh and introduce themselves. It’s not like the school playground 😉

#2 admin on 05.10.12 at 9:44 am

Hi Lucy, some really great advice there, thank you.

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