The Self-Respecting Person's Guide to Networking

You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Prolonged insincerity gets exhausting, but it doesn't have to be this way.

Networking events are a necessary evil if you need clients for your business, are on the job hunt, or you just stepped off the university cruise ship. Or, you can simply relax and enjoy this 'forced fellowship' of professionals eating canapes together.

If you're like me, a queue of suits are met with slight intimidation, but a worthy challenge accepted nonetheless.

Wherever you sit on the spectrum, here are some concrete tips to help you eclipse a hand shaking, small-talk-making networking event with grace and ease.

1.) ADOPT A FARMER'S MINDSET

Plant seeds by seeking genuine, mutual connections.

And watch them grow...ever so slow.

And watch them grow...ever so slow.

I was once at an event where a woman talked my ear off about her business, left no room in asking questions about what I did and did not pretend to be interested in me at all. Her spiel was polished, succinct and erected a communication barricade perfect for one-person squash.

Did I take her thrusted-in-my-hand business card? Yes. Did I want to use her service? Absolutely not.

Why was this? She made zero effort to connect with me. While I nodded, smiled, and listened politely, she finished her pitch, frisbeed her business card at me and shot off. 

Contrast this with the other woman I met a few nights later. 

She made me feel comfortable, connected, and took a genuine interest in who I was. I told her I knew nothing about the trademark law she practised and she empathised that she did not at first either, as it was so niche. To help me understand, she used an example from my own life and connected the dots between poetry and trademark law easily and simply.

It was like magic.

When people are in it for themselves, it reeks from a mile away. This is often caused by the need to feel significant, heard, important, superior or - maybe they needed a resting nice face to practise their business pitch.

The lesson: Focus on the genuine connection with your new acquaintance and you can't lose.

2.) DON'T SUCK UP

We're all just little humans with the same amount of hours in a day.

Inside, we are all different faced Terracotta Warriors... from Ancient China.

Inside, we are all different faced Terracotta Warriors... from Ancient China.

I have a friend who is an Actor. When I first met him I obnoxiously tucked him into the Struggling Artiste category. Then I learned he had an IMDB profile, recently bought a waterfront property and was starring in an upcoming Hollywood film.

He has also experienced feelings of isolation and loneliness, yearns for closeness with friends and family and enjoys good pho bo from Cabramatta. 

My point? He's not any less human than the rest of us. 

Public personas are fun to craft. Anyone can do it. And when we think our association with a prominent figure in our industry will advance our status, our wall of self-respect begins to crumble. You are equally - if not more valuable, than the celebrity you admire. It's all just leverage, perception and giant-befriending. Their seduction-by-LinkedIn-Profile tactics worked on you.

Are we not convinced of our stand-alone value? Dress to impress, walk confidently, but remember we are all in this game together. Anyone who raises their nose up at you needs to be smote from their superiority complex.

Some people weasel their way into a circle out of needing to feel significant by association. Not only does it make them look desperate and fake, they severely discredit their own value.

The lesson: Go ahead and pay a specific compliment to the person you admire, then converse with them as you would any other human being. Politely excuse yourself if there's no connection. 

3.) WORK THE ROOM LIKE A PRO

Pretend you're on the organising committee.

Canape?

Canape?

It's your job to make sure everyone mingles. If you're super shy, grab a plate off the food table and start offering canapes around. Acting like you're responsible for everybody's comfort will swap your social anxiety for (a form of) social welfare.

If there's no opportunity for this, start approaching friendly faces or people with open body language. Approach with "Hi I'm _______, what brings you to [insert networking event name here]?".

Add value by asking lots of genuine, curious questions. Build rapport through listening and eye contact. Let the person wax lyrical about themselves if you're interested and be not afraid of silences.

The lesson: Consider yourself the other person's opportunity to feel comfortable in an otherwise uncomfortable setting. If they are already more comfortable than you, fantastic!

4.) GIVE PROPER HANDSHAKES

Don't be a limp fish.

Statistically, shy young women have woeful handshakes. It's infuriating. Out of thinking it's ok to be just plain ignorant, they partner this with zero eye contact causing me to conclude they have no respect for the person who has to receive this freshly caught limp fish fluttering on the grave of their social skills and awareness.

It's worse when men suck at hand-shaking. It's doubly embarrassing. It signals a lack of respect, confidence and self-assurance, as if meeting me was clearly a waste of your time. 

The lesson: Watch this video and learn how to give a proper handshake! 

5.) DON'T JUST COLLECT - CONNECT.

Unless you're planning to add business cards to your scrapbook art collage.

...that looks as aesthetically pleasing as this.

...that looks as aesthetically pleasing as this.

Smart Phones make it easy to add a new connection on Facebook, LinkedIn or Instagram instantly. The physicality of a business card might be initially impressive, but more likely to end up in the wallet fattening pile.

If you connect over social media, it amalgamates the first step of connecting with the second. It might take longer, but having a quality > quantity mindset justifies this superior method - I actually do want your connection in my life and am willing to take the time to add you. 

The lesson: Accept that social media is the way of the future. It's also an opportunity for scoping out their reputation, networks and keeping each other in the community-loop.

CONCLUSION

Successful networking is done best when you are not consciously networking. You were simply focused on your own career, pursuing it from a place of passion and fervour. People are drawn to warmth and self-assurance. When you strut your stuff confidently and humbly about what you bring to the table, watch those connections start flooding in.

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