Networking, the lonely art thereof.
Oh dear, that word, networking. Perhaps unfairly, networking gets a bad rap. It can conjure visions of forcing oneself to abruptly approach strangers with a sales pitch and business card, or worse, uncomfortably standing alone and becoming overly acquainted with the cheese platter and the conference room carpet. Really, experiencing just one awkward networking event is more than enough to make us want to banish ourselves from any similar situations in future. Forever.
Surely there’s a better way to describe, and thereby think about, the act of getting people together and sparking new and interesting connections?
Networking half-heartedly, out of obligation, can make it a lonely place. Our pre-conceived ideas, our ‘buts’, can hold us back: but I’m not an extrovert, but I have nothing to talk about, but I never meet anyone good. For both organisers and attendees, that’s more than enough deadweight to sink us before we’ve even begun.
But – fear not. For here are a few ways to ensure the art of networking need not feel quite so daunting, whether you are the event organiser or someone attending.
The secret sauce to any gathering is not only the set of minds and hearts gathered together, but how they fit, how they feel, how open they are and the rapport and common ground that can be built up between them.
For organisers, selling tickets can quickly become the sole focus. Sure, getting people in the room matters, but that’s merely half the job. The other half involves working our proverbials off to set that room at ease, to place everyone on the same even keel and to generate a positive experience for everyone.
Firstly regardless of industry, whether you’re an organiser or attendee, let’s stop talking about ‘networking’ and focus instead on ‘collaborating’. Also, let’s give some thought to how this can happen with perceived competitors. There can be benefits for all, if done well.
Secondly, as organisers, we need to go the extra yard. Simply asking people to turn to the person next to them and ‘tell them something about yourself’ isn’t going to cut it. We need to foster a sense of sharing and caring. We need to get insights from ticket holders before they arrive, into what, precisely, they want to get from the day and that way we can formulate and tailor experiences that will impress and inspire, breaking down any barriers.
Let’s not allow our guests to turn up ‘naked’, feeling under pressure to fling cards at people before slinking into the back row to start texting.
Third, consider how much we have to learn from one another. After all, despite everything, there is a reason you chose to be at the event – so let’s make the most of it. Personally, I spend most of my days in the burgeoning sector of Social Enterprise, where the business world is abuzz with “purpose” and the opportunities have never been greater. Let’s stay aware of how much there is to be encouraged by. During the first years that an industry rises out of the ground, when it’s just a nascent eco-system, the opportunities to collaborate are never greater; particularly in one that’s showing such potential . Much like the early hours when a seedling catches the morning sun, the best thing we can do for ourselves right now is to seek to work together, communicate and collaborate, reciprocate, so that we all benefit.
Finally, let’s accept that networking events probably won’t disappear anytime soon. And for good reason too; if we can make a slight switch in our thinking then they move from a chore to a world of opportunity. Perhaps we could shift from “I have so many challenges with this business, do I really have time/want/need to go and meet people working in the same sector as me?” to “If I go and meet people working in my sector, I’ll gain a better understanding of where it’s all heading and may even overcome common challenges by working together?”
Ever the optimist, I hold a lot of hope for our event next week where we intend to do away with encouraging you to do any networking at all. Collaborating, on the other hand, finding ways to work together, learning how to better serve our customers, to grow our sector, that’s the kind of stuff we’re after.
We won’t let you go home feeling a bit crap because you’ve failed to collect a fat stack of business cards, thinking what a huge waste of precious time that all was.
So please join us on Thursday 24th if you’re feeling that a bit of nurtured meet and greet with the leaders in the social sector space will do you some good (we know it’ll be great for business:
so much so, we’re offering $10 off the full-day price, just use the code MEETTHEMAKERS).
We’ll be primed and pumped to open up the discussion, come over and chat to you… yes we’ll come to you… you won’t have to do anything at all except bring an open mind, and enjoy the coffee and cakes.
Yes! there will be cake.
We love cake.
Photos, all courtesy of the lovely peeps at Unsplash.
Kitten, George Bonev
Guy, Matthew Henry
Fairy Cakes, Borroke Lark