My name is Melanie, and I hate networking. There I said it. To me, there is nothing worse than walking into a room full of strangers and making small talk. Those events with endless cups of coffee (or wine) where you constantly repeat “Hi I’m Melanie, I’m a consultant. What do you do?” makes me shudder.
In a field that requires you to be out and about, I have had to learn how to network my way. If you are like me, hopefully, this article will help you too.
As a consultant and a communications professional, I know I have to network. Right now, it’s to generate business but even when I was in-house I needed it to build relationships across departments, find new staff etc.
I have another confession to make. I am an introvert. Well, I guess I am what they define as “an extroverted introvert”. I am just as happy in my own company as with a group. I hate talking in public (I force myself to do it). I get really nervous when I have to talk to people I don’t know. I would rather email than call someone. Unfortunately, this doesn’t really gel with my field of work. As the head of a communications team, and now a consultant, I have to have a profile. That means pushing myself out of my comfort zone, every day.
I have come to realise big networking events are not for me. I have tried a few times but going to a “networking evening” or the drinks at a conference on my own it’s just not my cup of tea. It also doesn’t present me in the best light, I’m nervous, I say stupid things and I end up standing in a corner on my own.
Over the years I have employed a few techniques to ensure I still get out and about but in my own way.
Instead of going to an event on my own I take a friend or colleague with me who I know is better at starting conversations with strangers than I am. It’s like having a support blanket, a hand to hold (sometimes literally), strength in numbers all that. I know that I feel more confident when I have a person I trust by my side. I still try not to do these too often, but it does help to meet some new business contacts.
The other approach I take is to network one-on-one, I meet with old colleagues or new contacts, over a coffee or a wine. I find that engagement means I can come prepared, I can have a more meaningful conversation, and I am way more comfortable. This can sometimes still be a challenge for me, but I set myself challenges to go and meet with at least one new person a month. It gets me out of my comfort zone but not in a way that is too scary.
I know a few people that love networking, see an invite from the local PRIA or IABC group and are the first person to register. That’s just not me, and I know there are lots of others out there like me.
You will read lots of other blogs about networking that give you “a great opening line” or “how to smile through your nerves”. My advice is this, find your own way to network. You have to do it, it’s part of working in a professional field but find a style that suits you, that you are comfortable doing.