awkward-small-talkI've received a ton of questions lately about networking: how to do it, how to do it effectively, how not to be the weirdo, how to follow up, how not to waste your time with losers, what is different about networking with women vs. men, how to network online, networking mistakes amateurs make. So I'll start today's post by explaining my opinion that networking is remarkably similar to dating. It can be done right, and it can go horribly wrong and defeat the purpose of getting out there.

Whether you are a professional working for a company, in sales, or run your own business, you know that networking is vital to your success.

You are only as powerful as your network.

The more powerful your network, the more projects you can realize, the more value you can add, the more money you can make.

Keith Ferazzi's seminal book on connections (pre-LinkedIn and facebook), told us we should never eat alone. We should always be cultivating our network.

And he's right. But the problem is that most of us go about networking in the same effed up way we go about dating.

Picture this: You are getting ready for a night out on the town. You have groomed your body hair. You smell good. You're wearing your fave outfit. You and your buddies have a good itinerary planned. Your goal? If you're a girl- to get asked for your number. For a guy? To get the number of the hot chick.*

When you hit the bar, you scope it out and look around for the One. The One you want to meet or be hit on by.

You order a drink. Play it cool. You're only half-engaged with your friends because you keep casing the joint for the One.

You think that your eye communication has been on point and if he/she doesn't know you're into him/her, then he/she is crazy. You have mildly entertaining conversations with other strangers who don't quite meet your standards. Ultimately no one seems as interesting as the mythical creature across the room. After about an hour your friends are ready to hit the next place and you've lost your chance. You give one last glance to the quarry and move on.

To further illustrate this point, take my friend (who often fielded questions like, "Are you Julia Roberts or Sandra Bullock?"). She didn't think her night out had been successful unless she had been 1. hit on and 2. asked for her number or asked out.

The problem with her approach was that she desired a very specific outcome to her bar nights. As her trusty wing girl, I was a mere prop in the exercise. She wasn't there to enjoy my company. She was there to see what she could get.

To be affirmed in her desirability. To be successful at being picked up by someone.

And the thing is, business owners and professionals often take the same approach when they go to networking events.

You walk in, business cards ready, and look around to see who might serve you. You quickly make small talk, ask what someone does and then categorize them. You might throw out your biz card** and expect theirs in return. But ultimately the interaction is superficial (dare I say sleazy?) and neither one of you makes a satisfying connection. You move on to the next person.

Eek. No wonder networking has a bad rap. Superficial networking is the business world equivalent of using cheesy pickup lines to hit on someone.

I'm here to tell you there is another way.

Here's what I think:

1. Go out to any event (networking or otherwise) and leave your intention for networking at home. Instead, see how much you can learn, who you might be able to help, how much fun you can have.

2. Be curious. Ask people about themselves. Stay present to who you're with in that moment. Presence is Magnetic.

3. Only give your card to people you truly desire a connection with. Make it important, like the Japanese do- take the card with ceremony and look at it instead of thrusting it into your receipt-paper strewn handbag or pocket.

4. Consider going solo. It'll be easier to focus on others if you're not in a gaggle. If you're not solo, make a deal with your friend(s) that you'll each go off on your own for at least a little bit.

Hope you've enjoyed this initial post on networking. More to come. Until then, ask yourself these questions:

1. What intention do you have when you go to a networking event?

2. What questions can you ask besides the boring, "So, what do you do?"

3. In what ways can you serve people through your networking?

 

* I understand that some of you also have a much bigger goal. You want to, ahem, close the business/seal the deal that very night.

 

**I'm really picky about who I share my card with and not only because my cards cost a dollar each. It's because I want to be sure it's someone who will have a specific reason to contact me and vice versa. I suppose it helps that I'm thinking, "Is this person worth a one dollar biz card?" And not so much about worth but assessing my own intention to follow up.

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