Networking for scaredy cats
Advice from our sheepish Communications Manager.
Networking. It’s the worst. The only people who actually enjoy talking to strangers are psychopaths and focus group moderators, which means at any given networking event 98% of people are just there for the nibbles.Yet more than ever in this futuristic, AI, VR, Netflix-binging world, personal connections are really, *really* important. Whether you’re looking for good advice, a massive raise or even a new job, behaving like a human being is still one of the few universally acknowledged keys to success.
Classically, networking involves a complex ritual of forcing someone to briefly hold your germ-ridden hand before hurling a tiny piece of paper with your name on it at them like a low-budget Poké Ball. But if even that feels too overwhelming for you, here are my top ten tips and tricks for improving your networking game, one step at a time…#### **1. Head outside**
Practice makes perfect, and if you hate talking to strangers, this is going to be the first obstacle you need to overcome. My best advice is to get a dog — ideally a cute one. That way you’ll have to spend hour or two a day making small talk with strangers in parks.
If you’re too responsible to recklessly invest in a pet, try joining an evening or exercise class instead (but not one that happens in the dark or to loud music). Extra points if it’s something you’re not very good at, because nothing bonds strangers like failure.
2. Get online
Do some research into the best online professional and networking groups for your industry and join them. Sometimes even a search on Facebook or Twitter can be fruitful. Be bold, answer other people’s questions and introduce yourself with confidence…after all, you can take as long as you like to hone the perfect response.
“God helps those who help themselves” wrote Algernon Sydney in 1698. Remember that your own friends, family and network can only help you if they know you need it. Make sure to share your personal and professional goals with those already around you — you never know who might have the perfect answer.
3. Go on a blind date
They say never mix business with pleasure, but a blind-double-friend-date is one of the best (and most difficult to say three times fast) ways to expand your network. Agree with a friend that you already know and like that you’ll have a drink and each invite someone that you think the other one would love to meet. Best case scenario: you get on like a house on fire. Worst case scenario: everyone is reasonably polite.#### **4. Start a blog**
Writing a blog makes you appear professional and organised, but it’s also an amazing networking tool, particularly if you’re struggling to find a good enough excuse to approach a stranger for a meeting. How about asking them to be profiled on your blog? As long as your content is halfway decent and you’re doing it with the right intentions, most people will be more than happy to share a tasty nugget or two of their expertise.
5. Find a mentor
Another tried and tested way of expanding your network is by seeking out a badass mentor. Ask your boss to help identify someone who is either a little more experienced than you, or you just think is super cool, and ask to spend an hour with them a month. They don’t have to be in the same industry as you, but should be prepared to give you honest feedback.
6. Test the waters
Once you’ve practiced your small talk, used your network and found a mentor, it’s time to get out into the big, bad world. Use Eventbrite to find an event that sounds interesting to you — it doesn’t have to be straight networking; keep an eye out for relevant talks and workshops as well. If you’re a woman working in digital in London check out Elevate, a fun, relaxed and seriously non-threatening series of talks and panels.
7. Be a limpet
As scary as it might seem, if you can start a conversation with one other nervous-looking person — and I find the best place for this is by the snack table — you’ll be able to then introduce each other to anyone else who is loitering nearby. Here are some other opening lines I’ve had success with:
“These chairs are cool.”
“I like your bag.”
“Are those prawns?”
It’s not rocket science.
8. Keep in touch
Honestly I’ve never owned a business card I’ve genuinely liked, and the act of exchanging them makes me feel like I’m in American Psycho, but remember why you’re putting in all of this effort and hand over your details already. If you want to seem extra cool, when someone gives you their card, take a picture of it on your phone and give it back to them, ideally citing “environmentalism”. Don’t wink, it makes it creepy.#### **9. Follow up**
You did it! You made a new friend (or ten) and took their details. Now it’s time to send them a follow up email. Always send something within 24 hours, make it light and personal, and try to suggest an action; whether that’s a coffee (a big step!) or just checking out your blog. You can also just say that you’ve added them on LinkedIn, and let them know that they should come to* you* with any of their networking needs in the future.