How many times have you heard that you need to network more? How many times have you wanted to say something not very nice in response? I know I certainly did, until I figured out how to put my networking efforts to good use.
I spent a great deal of my professional life networking. It certainly wasn’t easy. There were many times I sat outside an event in my car thinking, “no one knows I’m here, so if I don’t go in, it doesn’t matter.I just don’t want to make any more small talk in a room where I don’t know a soul.Ugh, this is so hard sometimes.” Those of us who have done a lot of networking can tell you it gets easier, and it does, but there are times when it’s just plain HARD.
However, the upside can be huge. To some extent, it’s a numbers game. You have to shake a lot of hands, talk to a lot of people, and drink a lot of mediocre wine before you find the gems in every room.
When you look up networking in the dictionary, Merriam Webster says it’s “the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically: the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business”
“Productive” is really the key word here. Learning how to engage in small talk while juggling a wine glass, a plate of food, and business cards is the first step to productive networking.
Once you master that, you can tackle the core effort of translating and leveraging all your new connections.
There are many books on networking, and you can easily spend more time learning about it than actually doing it. I’m not here to coach you on the “in-room” part of networking, but I will share with you what I do after the event is over. This part requires some discipline.
After any networking event, you should have at least one, or maybe a whole stack, of business cards. As soon as you can, find someplace private (your car, a bathroom, etc) and take notes. Write on each business card where you met and something that will help you remember who they are. If you told them you would send them x, y or z, put that down too.
Business cards can be hard to write on, or have no blank space. It’s handy to have your own blank cards (either an index card or blank business card) so you can write their name and your thoughts or actions with plenty of space.
You aren’t done yet. Once you get back to your workspace, create a table on a whiteboard try to fill in the blanks:
My actual whiteboard is not this neat and organized, but it does help me visualize who I met and something about them. Once the whiteboard fills up, I take a picture and start again. I know this sounds archaic, but I haven’t found an app that lets me do this visualization.
I also sort the cards based on what follow up I intend to do and I add that to-do list in my calendar and give myself three days to take action. I feel like my word is one of my biggest assets I don’t want to squander.
So why does this help me? When I begin a new project or I’m exploring new ideas, I use the information from my whiteboard to connect the dots. These connections are why I network and should be why you network too. While you are looking for connections that help you, always look for ways you can help connect others.
It’s the circle of networking.