When words get overused, the meaning gets fuzzy. “Networking” is one such word. In the last few years, it’s become a cliché buzzword for businesspeople. What does it mean, not only to network but to do so in an effective, genuine way? This handy guide will give you the steps you need to connect with sincerity and confidence.
One of the most common mistakes of networking is a lack of preparation. You don’t need to stay up all night reviewing notecards, pressing your suit, and reciting your elevator pitch. However, some small actions go a long way and can be the bridge between vaguely networking and truly connecting with others. For example, break through traditional small talk by brainstorming some unique, friendly questions. Here are just a few ideas!
Don’t feel like you need to do anything so far out of your comfort zone that you become anxious. Choose questions or insights that feel natural to you. The aim here is to find the balance between relaxed and professional.
Authenticity is extremely in right now. From antique furniture to vintage clothes, people crave things that feel genuine. This same trend applies to networking. Another common mistake of engaging with people is creating a façade to interact with those around you. It makes sense — extended conversations are daunting, with near-strangers. However, when you put on a show the first time you meet someone, you’re setting yourself up to fail. They’ll always know you by the persona you presented, instead of the real you.
Besides that, people are getting better and better at seeing through façades. More often, people want genuine interaction in the workplace, just like they’d get with family and friends at home. Again, it’s all about the balance. Obviously, you should be polite and professional, but don’t forget to be yourself, too.
Of course, you’re already physically there. What being there really means is being present and approachable. Before you go inside, take some deep breaths and try to relax, not just to calm down but to get out of your head. Don’t overthink it. Instead of spending every conversation worrying about what you’ll say next, focus on your surroundings and, obviously, the person talking to you. Ask questions and make it clear that you sincerely care about what they’re saying.
Everyone knows you should dress the best you can for a job interview, but you should also make a strong effort for networking, though not always in the same way. For an interview, you might wear a button-down shirt, jacket, and a tie, but for engaging with other professionals, you can be more creative. A more relaxed networking event might call for a patterned shirt or blouse, slacks, and loafers.
You might think this step is only important so others see you in fresh, fun outfits (it is), but it’s also important for yourself. Dressing well feels good. It boosts confidence and morale and helps you to forget about your appearance and focus on more meaningful things.
Just like you, the most adept networkers still get nervous. It can feel like that’s not true — like everyone but you knows exactly what they’re doing — but they don’t. Talking to new people is hard no matter what. When you start to panic, keep in mind the point of networking isn’t about winning every interaction, it’s about connecting and engaging with respected peers in your community. When fear and anxiety take over, remember it’s not live or die, and you’re going to be just fine.
In the end, networking can be hard and scary, but with the right preparation, mindset, and wardrobe, it’s a great tool not just for your career but for your entire life. If you’re looking to get connected right here in Oklahoma City, the Innovation Station downtown has the perfect space and tools to get started. Contact us today!