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For most of my life, I was a confirmed non-networker.  In fact, you could have called me networking-phobic.  I raised a skeptical eyebrow at statistics describing how most jobs are landed through networks, because all my jobs came through recruiters or ads.  And I probably never would have started my business if I'd realized that networking would be such a crucial activity.

So when I say that networking is a wonderful skill that you can learn, and that it's FUN, I hope you'll pay attention. You may be dutiful-but-reluctant instead of out-and-out phobic; either way, this is my invitation to you to find ways to actually enjoy your networking activities.

I know you know why you should network, but I'll review a few of the reasons and then describe some tips to make it more fun.

Make friends
You’ll meet wonderful people at networking events, many of whom will become lifelong colleagues and friends.

Get jazzed
There’s nothing like talking about what you do with people who are interested.  Ideas suddenly become excitingly real when you talk about them.  

Learn something
Not all networking is dull and businesslike.  Two of my favorite groups are the Knitting Guild and the Mycological Society.  Mycological?  Mushrooms.  Yes, I hang out with the Mushroom People.  (No, no, not THOSE kinds of mushrooms!)  Whether you choose primarily social events or professional, you’ll learn a lot.

Make connections
You never know when you'll need a reliable electrician, mechanic, or babysitter. Or when you'll want to land a job with a particular company. It's all about meeting people now so you'll know them when you need them. And it's lots of fun to help other people make the connections they need as well.

Don't do business
It’s not about doing business.  Really. Not. About. Doing. Business.  

Whether it’s job-hunting or trying to sell something, you know what you think of people who try to do business with you five seconds after you meet them.  ‘Nuff said.

Making it Fun

Statistics show that people fear public speaking more than they fear death.  Among the people I talk to, though, I’d say that fear of networking ranks even higher.  After all, if you‘re delivering a speech, at least you know what to say!

The suggestions here aren’t about what to say, but if you experiment with them, you may find that “what to say” becomes a non-issue.

Follow your interests
I’ve heard networking gurus say that you shouldn’t go to events just for the speaker or topic.  I disagree, especially if you‘re networking-phobic.  

If you go to an event that you're interested in, you're guaranteed to have something to talk about with the other attendees.  And your genuine interest in the topic - even if you don't know anything about it - will make you interesting to the people there who do know something about it.

You’ll notice that two of my favorite groups are not business related.  Do I make business connections there?  Of course I do.  

Go for the food
Okay, I can't believe I just wrote that. But really, some events have much better food than others.  And you can meet people over the buffet, talk about the fabulous appetizers, and laugh about not shaking hands with sticky fingers.

Go for the people
If the attendees of an event are what a friend of mine would call “your peeps” (your people), you’ll have much more fun than if they‘re too conservative/liberal/old/young/whatever.  Look for groups that are outside your normal social circle (otherwise, why bother?), but who share at least some of your perspective on life.  They, after all, are the ones most likely to become business associates and friends.

Don't just join
If you decide to become a member of a group, you'll get much more for your membership fee if you get involved. Volunteer for a committee. Offer to help at the registration desk for the monthly meeting. You'll immediately have people to talk to and something to say to them, and you'll make deeper, stronger connections as you work together.  

Some of the most demanding and interesting volunteer work I've ever done was for the local chapter of the American Society for Training and Development.  And the annual conference I helped organize was tremendous fun, and I formed friendships and business connections that will be part of my life and business for years to come.

It's a party
If you're normally not a party-goer, start with smaller, quieter, less interactive events where you won't have to be "on stage" too much. Take a friend with you if you must, but don't just hang out together.

People know when you‘re uncomfortable.  Forcing yourself to go to events when you‘re too tired, too overwhelmed, or secretly terrified just doesn’t work.  However, when you find ways to intrigue yourself - whether it’s the speaker, the group’s focus (ahh, those mushrooms!), or even the venue where the event is held - you’ll be more relaxed and easier to talk to.  

And finally ...
Don’t listen to the voices in your head clamoring that you‘re the only wallflower, the only one who’s uncomfortable.  There are very few people who are completely at ease when they walk into a roomful of strangers.

But here’s a fun little surprise about networking that no one ever mentions.  As you get out there more and more, you’ll suddenly find that even when you go to a brand-new event hosted by an unfamiliar group, there will be people there whom you know.

That's when you'll know you've become a real networker!

“Networking is like dating.  You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find the princes.”  Sherry Essig, certified business coach and co-founder of Priority Ventures Group, [Link Removed]

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Interested in learning more? Check out my [Link Removed] which starts next week!


Gljudson, Your links have been removed, please consider upgrading to premium membership.




Member Comments

    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Vikki Hall wrote Mar 16, 2009
    • This was good info to share with networkphobes....

      Did you haapen to watch ER when they had mushroom people on there? That was what I thought of when you wrote that part....



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Grace Judson wrote Mar 16, 2009
    • Hi, Vikki,

      Laughing...no, I don’t watch TV, but I can imagine!  

      What’s your biggest networking challenge?  

      Grace



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Vikki Hall wrote Mar 16, 2009
    • Probably asking people I don’t know well to connect with me. Not so much on here but on Linkedin. I am not working currently but want to stay relevent and in touch.



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Cynthia Schmidt wrote Mar 16, 2009
    • Great information. Thank you.

      Back in the 80’s there was a woman in Orange County, CA named Susan Linn. She was dubbed the networking queen and wrote a book about it with updates on the groups in our county. I loved it. I went to networking functions all the time. I agree with you about not doing business. You can see them coming - the ones only there for the business it can bring them. I avoid those people like the plague. And, they don’t even know how obvious they are! Yikes.

      Thanks again



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Grace Judson wrote Mar 16, 2009
    • Vikki - LinkedIn is a great resource, but I know a lot of people find Facebook easier to connect on. I also really recommend Twitter - it's fun and very easy to jump into the stream of the conversation.  If you hop over there, start following me (@gracejudson)!

      Chocolatier - yum, great name!  yes, and in today's economy unfortunately the obvious/desperate people are even more prevalent.  I feel sad for them, because I know it's out of fear...that's one reason I'm teaching the networking teleclass!  (which you can see at [Link Removed] )


      Gljudson, Your links have been removed, please consider upgrading to premium membership.



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Vikki Hall wrote Mar 16, 2009
    • Well funny enough I am on both. I play around with friends and family on FB and have connected with previous co workers on LinkedIn and other professionals.



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      (華娃娃) ChinaDoll wrote Mar 16, 2009
    • Networking is like dating. You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find the princes.  Like this.  I am a great kisser.  

      Also If you decide to become a member of a group, you'll get much more for your membership fee if you get involved.  Like here, even if it is free.



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Grace Judson wrote Mar 17, 2009
    • Vikki - Sounds to me like you're making both Facebook and LinkedIn work for you! :)

      Chinadoll - I so, so agree that joining a group and getting involved makes connecting a lot easier and more fun.



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