No matter your industry, networking is an important activity you need to participate in. Whether you want to reach the top of the fame chart or just get your foot in the door, networking is generally what will get you there. This is even truer in today’s times where getting yourself seen by any one semi-important person can be a nightmare. However, most people just starting out don’t understand what networking is. Do you schmooze people at fancy cocktail parties? Do you slap flyers into every industry person’s face? In today’s post, I would like to talk about networking a bit, both how you should be thinking about it until you get more skilled and how to start.
Without hesitation, let’s jump in.
- Put yourself in the right mindset when you think about networking
Whatever you think about networking, drop it from your mind. Every single tip and whatever else doesn’t matter right now. In particular, drop the clinical definition of “building social and professional contacts.” This makes networking sound way more difficult than it actually is. So, let’s simplify the matter. At the heart of it, networking is just having a conversation with contemporaries in the same industry. Are you an artist? Talking to other artists is networking. A writer? Talking to other writers is networking. It goes on and on for whatever industry is relevant to you. The point is don’t think too hard about why you’re having the conversation. If you constantly have some “social contact” goal in your mind, the conversation is going to wind up awkward and stifled. Instead, just focus on having conversations for the sake of having conversations when you start out. The more conversations you have, the more people will remember you. And guess what? The more people remember you, the more they’ll mention you to others. And guess double what? That is the entire point of networking. Knowing people who know people and remember to mention you. So, don’t overcomplicate it. Just wake up every day and say, “I’m going to talk to this person and have a good conversation.”
- Find out where your industry is having conversations and go there
The next step to starting out with networking is to find where your industry is having conversations. Now, this doesn’t mean you have to go outside if you’re a shy, outside averse hermit. There are both physical and online spaces where every industry is talking about industry related stuff. Thus, you can find a space that is comfortable for you. However, make sure to find something, whether it’s a convention, a forum, a Discord server, or whatever else. Remember that for finding this space, Google is your friend. Often it’s just a matter of typing out your industry plus the type of space you’re looking for. If this produces nothing, you can also go onto Twitter and ask for recommendations while using industry relevant hashtags. Once you find the space, make sure to create a presence there with the next tips.
- Ask the community questions to build repertoire
The most common excuse I hear for lack of conversation is, “I don’t what to say.” It is a disease that plagues everyone at some point or another, extrovert and introvert alike. However, there is an easy way to get around this. Just ask people questions. These can be directed at someone specific or a group as a whole. Nevertheless, they’re easy conversation starters. There are a few things to keep in mind, however. First, make sure you reply to people’s answers. Even if you just acknowledge the answer exists in some way and parrot it back, it generally has a better outcome then letting said person’s answer levitate in the void. Second, avoid controversial subjects. These can include general elements like politics and religion or industry specific controversies. Keep your question to something industry related and something semi-fun. Third and last, ask even if you don’t feel your heart stirred from the depths of passion in wanting to know the answer. Even if you don’t really care about other people’s opinions on a certain topic, make the conversation anyway. It will do you more good in the long run.
- Participate in social community events when you can
Briefly, like going to the conversation spaces, make sure you participate in social community events. What they are doesn’t matter. Twitter chats? Potluck? Convention? If you can, go to it. Part of networking is taking every opportunity you can to socialize, and community events are some of the best and most organized opportunities you will get for that. Don’t pass them up and participate in as many as possible.
- Make sure your additions to the conversation are meaningful
The last tip for getting started in networking is to make sure your additions to the conversation are meaningful. Obviously, comments like “lol,” “I see,” “Me too,” and similarly short statements are included in this. These sorts of short statements are the type that stops your conversation partner in their tracks, as your addition doesn’t really give them much in the way of something they can reply to. These sorts of statements also make you sound less than interested, which does not paint a good impression either.
However, there are a few more things included in this specific tip. For instance, are most of your replies jokes, even during serious discussions? While the desire to make others laugh is admirable, such displays can come off as obnoxious and distracting to other conversation participants. Instead of coming off as endearing, you simply come off as annoying and make yourself an undesirable conversation partner.
Another misstep to watch out for is constantly interrupting the conversational space with off topic matters. While your “bad day” or “new house” are probably indeed important to you, that does not mean they’re important to the people you’re trying to network with. Like joking, it can come off as obnoxious if you constantly butt in with these sorts of topics, as few other people are able to connect with it and make conversation about it. Although there is a time and place for off topic matters, it’s important to properly read the conversational vibe. Also, never ever just change an ongoing topic to an off topic subject. This is not only rude, but reflects your disinterest on your sleeve (which is not a good look).
There is a lot of nuance to this issue, but to summarize it do your best to write worthwhile replies that are related to the topic and industry at hand.
All in all, I hope these tips have taken some of the mystery out of networking. Networking is not some mystical business-y thing that only professional schmoozers are capable of pulling off. Networking is simply having good conversations with people in the industry and making your personal brand more prominent by association. So, get out there, chat up some of your peers, and don’t stress on it. Before you know it, just talking to people will advance you in ways that hiding in a cave won’t. Until next time!