Even in the Internet era, meeting in person is still the most powerful way to get to know someone.
But these days, we’re barraged with invitations — chamber of commerce mixers, big conferences, and even more intimate gatherings of colleagues after work.
How can we decide what’s worth it? In my new e-book “Stand Out Networking,” I share the following strategies for how to max out the value of every gathering you attend, even if you’re an introvert.
Release yourself from obligations.
One evening last summer, I found myself at a networking event in a noisy Greenwich Village bar, shouting to be heard over the din.
I was at an exclusive speakers reception for an event where I was lecturing the next day, and figured I should go, in order to connect with the other attendees.
But overall, the event was loud and stressful. As an introvert, those kind of situations take a toll on me, and I have to spend time recovering afterward. When I walked out the door and vowed never to attend a reception like that again, I felt liberated.
Yes, you have to do some networking. But do it your way.
Is this the type of event I enjoy (crowded bar versus intimate dinner)?
Will there be people there I like, or will enjoy meeting?
Is the timing optimal for me? (Personally, I’ve sworn off early-morning breakfast meetings, because it’s just no fun to wake up that early.)
Consider creating your own events.
Derek Coburn, the author of “Networking Is Not Working: Stop Collecting Business Cards and Start Making Meaningful Connections,” believes that traditional cattle-call gatherings fool us into believing we’ve been productive, when we’re actually wasting time with an untargeted approach.
Instead, he strongly believes in creating your own events.
If you want to connect with like-minded professionals who share a similar worldview, the best strategy is often to host events yourself and control the guest list.
That’s what Coburn and his wife, Melanie, have done with CADRE, the Washington, DC and Baltimore — based networking group they started to bring top professionals together (I’ve been a speaker for his group).
Their explicit mission is to create a different kind of networking experience, screening applicants for shared values and a desire for long-term relationship building, rather than short-term gain.
In the business world, there’s a temptation to shout our strengths from the rooftops and hide our weaknesses, says John Hagel, author of “The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion.”
But that puffery doesn’t help us in the long run.
“There’s a need to share your vulnerability — to share a gnarly problem, to engage [the other person], to invite them to rise up and draw out the things deep within them,” he says. “How do we learn to trust each other? It’s being able to show you’re human and you also have issues you’re grappling with.”
But being vulnerable doesn’t mean you should immediately start blabbing about your recent breakup. Instead, you should focus on interesting professional challenges with your new business contacts.
“The art is being able to frame the problem in a way that makes it exciting and interesting,” says Hagel. “It’s not about ‘Oh, a horrible thing just happened to me,’ but ‘Wow, imagine if we could figure this out.’ You draw people in and it becomes a self-selection filter. It will test whether you’re dealing with someone who just wants to advance themselves or someone who wants to work collaboratively.”
In-person networking can be immensely rewarding: there’s nothing like feeling that “click” when you truly connect with someone. But if you’re not strategic in your choices, it can be a frustrating and even forlorn experience that makes you wonder why you’re there.
Instead, focus on maxing out the value of the gatherings you attend, even if they’re limited in number, and try to find ways to connect in greater depth with people, so that they will remember you when you leave the room.
Dorie Clark is a marketing strategist who teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. She is the author of “Reinventing You” and “Stand Out,” and you can receive her free Stand Out Self-Assessment Workbook and follow her on Twitter.
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