Over the past few weeks I’ve had a series of conversations with people about what makes an effective networker, and following up my post about the Seattle 2.0 Awards event, “networking” seems like a timely/relevant topic.
To me networking is the ability to develop a real and sincere personal relationship with someone around a topic that the two of us find interesting, relevant, and important. It’s bidirectional, about giving and getting.
No surprise it has nothing to do with LinkedIn or Facebook. Just look at the About LinkedIn page: “We believe that in a global connected economy, your success as a professional and your competitiveness as a company depends upon faster access to insight and resources you can trust.” This is under the heading Relationships Matter.
Wait a second, this is about stuff for you, it’s not about relationships.
Networking is about taking “what goes around comes around” to heart, and focusing on what you give to someone, beginning with an understanding of that other person. It’s creating some durable residual value through a conversation, and the goal is to produce a lasting memory of you and your talent/intellect. Along the way they’ll learn about you, but that’s secondary; it’s the byproduct.
OK, but this can be scary to do. You are going to reach out to someone you don’t know or know well and ask for something. In some aspects, this puts you in a situation similar to public speaking (and we all know how comfortable that can be for people). You need to “perform” and expose some vulnerabilities. It gets a lot less scary for me when I don’t view this as networking, and instead view this as a way to form and nurture a personal relationship.
Perhaps in this first conversation you do have a favor to ask, or maybe you just want to establish the relationship, or have this person keep an eye out for a role or opportunity relevant to you. It’s this slice of memory that will provoke them to make the introduction you just asked for, remember your name and repeat it to a relevant contact, or to take your call and grant you a favor someday later when you ask it.
I do this all the time for people, and I don’t mind it one bit. As a matter of fact, I love it. I just did it while writing this post. Someone I know has taken on an ambitious consulting project, and a former colleague of mine who has since become a rock-star marketing exec could help her out. I loved connecting them, a good fit of two thoughtful, talented people – who I have real and sincere personal relationships with.
This is taking your values as a person and applying them in a professional context (something I touched on in an earlier post) and doing this in an interpersonally “deliberate” manner.
And then I thought, well there is networking I hate and am not comfortable with. It’s the “forced” networking of work-related events – when you’re in a crowd and making the small talk that on occasion produces an interesting and memorable discussion. This is perverse because in my role as a VC a big part of my job is to get out into the market, to attend events, and to “network.” I am horrible at small talk, and I admire people who can establish ease and comfort quickly with someone new, and find some common ground. I am still learning here.
But I approach this in the same way I had to learn to speak in public. It doesn’t mean I’m always comfortable, it just means I’ve trained myself to do it. And there are a lot of conversations along the way that just seem to fill space and time, but there are also those moments when I meet someone where we can establish an actual, meaningful conversation. And then I’m right back in my comfort zone.