Depending on who you ask, networking is either relatively enjoyable or a necessary evil to suffer through.
If you were to ask me, I’d be able to regale you with anecdotes from hundreds of career fairs, association meetings, networking meetups, and client visits. I genuinely enjoy the face-to-face connection you get in a networking situation. You get a more casual environment to meet people, discuss business, but also pepper your conversation with real pieces of your personality. It’s not a job interview, so the solemnity tends to be lessened, and people generally feel more comfortable in a group setting.
I know some people who wouldn’t go to a large networking event even if you paid them, and I know others who knew about it before you tell them, and are already registered.
Obviously, our comfort levels in crowds of near-strangers are individual to each of us. I am a salesperson, and people are my specialty. I have no problem walking into a crowd and introducing myself and my company, and enjoying meeting new people every time I turn around. I am marryied to an introvert who finds it stressful to be in crowds of strangers, and tends to not know how to introduce himself to complete strangers. Luckily, we balance each other out!
It’s not only a personality thing, though. Usually at an event, I’m representing my company, so I feel that I’m able to offer value to people and to companies. I am able to bring something to the table, so starting a conversation is even easier! Not that as myself I am not valuable, simply that as a representative of my company, I am bringing a different sort of value to the table.
Here is an example of how networking has been a huge help to me previously. I was tasked with bringing a rebranded company name out to market in NYC when the company rebranded in 2014. Being able to get in front of people who knew me as the former brand, and explain in person our new name and logo, but with the same great services, was the best way for people to associate the new name with our old brand that was so well known. People could associate me with the new name, as they already did with the old one. Giving presentations at networking events allows me to stamp myself and my company into people’s brains.
A great networker is someone who is remembered. They are not the funniest or best looking person in the room, or the one who spoke the loudest. It is the person who had great conversations with people, who was credible and knowledgeable without being pushy or a know-it-all. It’s someone who focused their undivided attention on the person they were speaking with, and not allowing passersby to distract them. A great networker expands their network by mingling with new people and introducing themselves to newcomers, and being a genuine, friendly source of information.
Bringing value to your events is so important. If you are looking for a job, the way you should think of this is “what do I bring to the table?” This is a view of what YOU can do for a company or service, and don’t even begin to focus on what they can do for you. You are not owed anything by companies, but you may be bringing fresh perspectives, specialized experience, or a tech-savvy eagerness to learn to them, all of which are invaluable to companies.
Expanding your network is vital to branding yourself (or your company) in your chosen industry or market. You can really learn and gain a lot from meeting pillars of your field, or perhaps you are one and you have a lot of knowledge you could be teaching others. Everyone has value to bring to every conversation. Mingling with other experts is a great way to learn new things, meet potential clients, and more.
As a salesperson, when you are marketing anything: yourself, your employer, a client, you are a subject-matter expert putting yourself in a position to expand your network. Hand out business cards, and get them from people you meet. Connect with them on LinkedIn and check in occasionally. Networking is an important piece of the puzzle, but not the only one!
Have you ever had an amazing or amazingly bad networking experience? What has expanding your network done for you, personally and professionally?
This article originally was posted on LinkedIn on 3/11/2015 by me (original content). It has been edited a bit for relevance.