Networking A Skill Your Life Depends On

Networking and the importance of developing our connections is another skill we are never taught in school. Going through life some of us develop the necessary social skills to get buy though but most of us never develop or invest in soft skills that can help us get ahead in life.

I first experience this in 2003 when I was investigated different ways of moving up the career ladder and attended a Toastmasters meeting. My initial impressions were quite critical as my perception of most of the people there was there was a total lack in confidence and I would not learn anything. However, at one of the management development courses I attended through work I understood personality types and knew that I was a Driver, Choleric or High D personality type. The majority of the other attendees at that meeting were melancholic and phlegmatic. Which did not stack the cards in favour of me joining any Toastmasters group. However, one of the attendees that evening received a ribbon for best evaluator. That was what made me join, because as I was sitting there waiting for an opportunity to slip out without anyone noticing my internal dialogue was critical of all the waffling. So, when they received the ribbon for evaluation I was hooked. Reason being at up to that point all my appraisals had the following sentence or something similar. “work on giving positive feedback without criticise”. It was hard work but I persevered at Toastmasters and achieve my own best evaluator ribbon.

For me networking is the same and what prompted this post was reading a post form someone I met at a face to face networking event in Cambridge earlier the week. Again, to put this in context like my Toastmaster experience I adopt the same approach to Networking and if there are any preconceived perceptions or likelihood of me not attending I like to make contact with one of the organisers before or arrange a follow up with someone at or after the meeting, to ensure I am not a now show at the meeting. Then after the meeting I normally connected on LinkedIn and Facebook with those individuals I felt would be worth keeping in touch or with whom I wanted to follow up with. 

In this case one of the people I connected with posted something about the event and ended the post with a question. Do you love or hate networking?

I am sure we all have views on this question and one of my favourite visuals that come to mind is the Ugly Betty Networking Moment clip. 

Which is why I would say it depends how you define networking. My perspective is that we are always building networks or connecting, wherever we are. Some are more formal though and labels specifically as business networks. But some experiences are defiantly better than others. As I am sure you would agree the Ugly Betty clip illustrates perfectly. As a generalisation I would go as far as to say the network event or group is normally a reflection of the people who run it. Next is understanding the intent or agenda of those attending that meeting. Which creates another problem, because some people attend these events to do business and not to make connections or build relationships. 

For me there are definitely their good events and bad ones, but you also get good events run badly and bad event run well. Depending on the experience of the organiser or host. Venue, location, layout, parking, time of day etc. also affect who will or will not attend. Therefore, I define a networking event as either good or bad based my experience, which is based on the environment, atmosphere and people who attend. I always think of how I feel at the event and try balance my prejudged/ perceptions of the other people in the room. Something I believe we all do subconsciously. Then even if I preserve the event to be a bad one I try to look at what learning experience I can get from being at the event. 

For example, sometimes you talk to someone and you can see they are not paying attention or listening to what you saying, but just waiting for you to stop so that they can sell you. There is other example to, so point is. For me at least what I get from networking is what I put in and is willing to invest in the follow up. Ultimately investing the time to build relationships, but the cold truth generally is no one cares about you only what you can do for them and if that is not immediately apparent the journey never starts or you lose them along the way.

Whatever your thoughts or experiences of Networking is though it is a life skill you have to continue to work on, not a game of luck where you have a chance to draw the right card. I was not good when I started, learned a lot since my first networking experience and continue to learn. 

What I found useful so far was Will Kentish Networking Workshops where I learned how to work a room, play host and various other skills. At BNI member training I learned how to get the most from your 121 and about power teams. At the Chamber of Commerce speed networking I learned how to get what I do across in 60 seconds or less. At some of the local free I still practice to listen and be interested, and not to get my judgements and preconceived perceptions get in the way.           

Ultimately though I will agree with David Burkus the power of your network comes from introductions. Something you unlikely to get from people who don’t know you. Be natural when you at a networking event, don’t have an angle. Understand the ecosystem you are venturing into and build you social capital value. 

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