Exec Spin: Networking 101
Friday, March 2, 2018
Posted by: Gary Hotze
Julia Kanouse, CEO, ITA
When most people hear the word “networking,” they inwardly groan (myself included!). We’ve all been there – staring down a room full of people you don’t know on a random Tuesday night. For most of us, intentional networking can feel awkward. It raises our level of anxiety. Just thinking about icebreakers, shallow conversations and unsolicited invitations makes me a little twitchy.
But that’s because “the way many people do it is gross,” as Mike Steib, CEO of the XO Group and author of The Career Manifesto, recently wrote. Their outreach, at the core, is about what they need and what their goals are. Steib continues, “if you want to build an effective network, you must focus on what you can do for other people, not what they can offer you.”
I’m sure it seems a bit ironic that the CEO of an organization that focuses on helping people and companies build their networks, struggles with the actual practice. But it’s because of my role here and the success that I have seen when networking is done right, that I’ve spent time researching and identifying what “doing it right” means. Here are three things I’ve implemented over the past year to help build my network (no groans or twitches required):
- Changed my mindset to focus on what I can do for others. When I walk into a “networking event,” I no longer think about what I need to get out of it or what my ROI on the evening will be. The network that I’m building and the connections that I’m making come from a desire to get to know, appreciate and support other people genuinely. This change in perception has made it so much easier to make real connections and start the process that Steib describes of building a “meaningful network.”
- Let go of my fear of “sounding dumb.” There are many times in the course of a conversation with someone new that I don’t understand what their role is or what their company does. I used to nod along…pretend. I’ve made a focused effort over the past year to use those opportunities to ask more in-depth questions. This approach serves two essential purposes. One, it gets my new connection talking about himself and his area of expertise or passion, which makes him feel appreciated and heard. Two, I’ve just learned something new that I can parlay into a future conversation and have become more valuable to my current (and future) network.
- Follow up on every interaction. Whether it’s a Linked In request or a quick email, I’ve been working hard on following up with each person that I have more than a passing conversation with at an event. To make those follow-ups “count,” I try to provide something of value to the other person – an article I think they might find interesting, a company they should learn about, etc. In addition to my follow-ups being an extension of the “focus on others” principle, they also force me to remember people’s names…a must for successful networking!
Technology has connected us in infinitely more ways, but it has also removed some of the personal from interpersonal relationships that are a critical part of meaningful networking. Consequently, networking has become more transactional. People too often only ask what's in it for themselves, what they can gain. This mindset is a dead end nearly every time. Taking some time to invest in the other person, on the other hand, will propel your networking forward. The central takeaway is to remember what you have to offer first, foremost and a worthwhile connection will follow.
Implementing these simple tactics in the past year has profoundly changed my networking game. There's undoubtedly more great tips and advice out there. So, feel free to hit me up on LinkedIn with your best networking advice and strategies. Consequently, you'll be putting principle number one into practice in the process and your guidance might also help alleviate my networking-related twitching and sweaty palms too. It's a real two-for-one special.