Early on in my career, I attended an out-of-town conference. I was the only person from my company, and I didn’t know a soul there. On the first day of the conference, I was invited to join a “networking event” and soon found myself wandering aimlessly through a crowd of strangers.
Drink in hand, completely alone, it seemed everyone else already had a buddy, and they were busy chatting, laughing and generally enjoying themselves. Meanwhile, I tried desperately to blend in — or rather disappear into the floor boards.
Agoraphobics aside, this scenario has got to be the definition of unpleasant for many people. And yet, for entrepreneurs, salespeople, marketers, or anyone on the job hunt, networking can be a necessary evil.
Over the years, I’ve become a lot more comfortable walking alone in to a crowd of strangers at conferences or other events. First of all, I’ve come to realize, I won’t be the only person who is on my own. Smiling helps, and most of those who are solo are thrilled when you walk up out of nowhere and introduce yourself. If you can learn to be comfortable with yourself and look somewhat approachable (face free of tense scowls and creepy, fake grins) others may even approach you!
There is an art to networking. I’ve learned that networking, like many things in life, is about quality, not quantity. If you leave an event having made just a few meaningful contacts, it’s worth so much more than collecting 50 business cards from people you barely remember.
Social media is the next evolution in networking. While it has removed a lot of the fear from networking, meaningful connections can be harder to make, as we’re bombarded with friend requests, Tweets and various e-invitations to this or that. The upside, of course, is the incredible reach and the ability to connect with like-minded people from anywhere in the world.
As part of my book marketing strategy, networking is something I now spend a fair bit of time on. I must confess, though, when I first started out, the whole thing felt like “work.” Even sending Tweets from Twitter felt like a chore. But since delving into the world of on- and off-line social networking, I’ve connected with some incredible people. Somewhere along the way, networking stopped being a chore and became truly enjoyable.
After all, networking is about meeting and connecting with people – ideally, people who have something in common with you – and what can be better than that?