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Networking: How To Bring Your A-Game (And Have Fun In The Process!)

Categories: All Resources, Tips

After Reading This Article, Please Feel Free To Share Your Comments, Regarding: What Is Your Most Effective Approach To Networking? 

Perhaps you’re reading this article early in the morning – before your coffee has set in – and thinking, “did I read that title correctly?” Did the author just use the words “fun” and “networking” in the same sentence?  Don’t adjust your reading glasses just yet, because I did indeed put the words “fun” and “networking” together.  While some people (like myself) really enjoy networking, many of my friends and colleagues have ranked live networking events somewhere between a root canal and an I.R.S. audit, on their scale of “fun” or “enjoyable” activities.  In this article, I’ll offer some ideas, which might help you to turn networking from a dreaded task into a fruitful and enjoyable experience.

I believe that many books, coaches, and podcasts with “how to” techniques for networking have missed the mark, because their end-goal is misguided (for example, the erroneous end-goal of getting the most clientsper networking event, or making the most connections in one evening).  With that aim in mind, the whole interactive process of networking gets lost; traded in for a “quid-pro-quo” / “what do I get?” approach.  Such an approach, in turn, creates unrealistic expectations (and in turn, increases disappointment), ramps up your anxiety, and squelches some valuable opportunities to connect with others, and learn something valuable (two key goals of networking). 

I further believe that anyone – introvert or extrovert – can learn to effectively network – at live events, in weekly groups settings, or at a one-on-one meeting.  Once you re-examine the desired “end goal” of networking, and shift your focus just a bit, then your stress level is likely to decrease.  If one remains open-minded and releases expectations for “immediate gains,” they may find themselves truly enjoying the world of networking. Let’s address some specific practices (in line with these new aims), to maximize the networking experience:

Picking Networking Events:  So Many Choices, So Little Time:   

For some, the anxiety and stress around networking starts with the question of how to choose an event or a group! It’s difficult to decide what type of networking group to attend (A weekly one? Large groups? Small groups? Groups with my own colleagues? Inter-disciplinary networking gatherings?).  Many people – especially the more recently self-employed or new business owners – may feel compelled to attend nearly every networking event, in search of new opportunities, new business, or both.  However, like many aspects of life, there is a balance between quality and quantity; between variety and consistency.  

While you might meet more people if you go to twelve networking events this month instead of eight, it may be more productive if you ask some key questions about a prospective networking function, and then narrow your selection.  Asking these questions may be helpful: does the group tend to attract people from your field – or from fields where you might share common resources or experiences?  Is the group you are attending diverse in its membership? Do you feel comfortable in the setting? (Some people prefer a morning café, a breakfast setting, or a private back room for attendees, rather than a large open or noisy bar).  Are the people who attend this group repeat attendees? (An important factor, both in attesting to the group members’ satisfaction level, and in indicating the group members’ commitment to building potential long-term relationships).   Answering these questions may reduce your anxiety, and make the first step – selection of networking groups and events  – flow more naturally.

Often, I recommend that people attend a mix of large networking groups and smaller, more personalized groups as well.   The larger groups – if well run — can increase your chances of connecting with a wide variety of people, thus helping to diversify your network (and perhaps you’ll hear more inspiring stories, from those who have been in your shoes).  However, for larger groups, I like to check the reviews – both from external publications, and reviews from the group’s own members – to see if the networking group is well-regarded. For example, I have had many positive experiences at the award- winning New York City Business Networking Group, which meets one evening per month – usually on the last Tuesday.  Similarly, mixing large networking events and groups in with smaller, more personalized groups will give you a chance to increase your one-on-one time with people, and can lead to an easier opportunity for follow-up with one on one meetings.  My ideal goal is to make 4 larger events per month, and 4 smaller ones as well.  I focus on consistency in my attendance, rather than a sporadic or random stop-in at many different functions.   

“Success” And Enjoyment While Networking;  Redefining
  The Goal:

“What’s My Motivation?”  

Some of the best experiences I’ve had in recent memory at networking events – the most “successful” events in my book — included times when I did not meet a single client at the event, nor did I necessarily acquire a new referral source.   Indeed, as I mentioned earlier, these ends (acquiring new clients or new referral sources) are not my main or immediate goals, when attending a networking event.  Granted, I’m not negating that expanding one’s client base and growing a referral base are key aspects of networking.  Rather, I’m suggesting that: (a) expanding your client base and referral network will happen organically, over time, and with consistent, steady and diversified networking, and (b) if I go to a specific networking breakfast, dinner, or function looking for new clients or new referrals to materialize at each event, then these aims will likely not occur.Success in networking comes down to redefining my goals and motivation for networking. These goals are four-fold:

(1)  to connect with other people (socially, intellectually, and professionally);

(2) to learn something new: new information, new resources that exist in my field, new guidance in running my business or practice, or to learn about someone else’s life experiences (that’s right, life experiences, as in their world outside of the office!); 

(3) to be inspired, knowing others have successfully walked my career path; and 

(4) to try to find people whom I can help and assist.  

With these goals in mind, I take the focus off of me and what I want, and, in so doing, I reaffirm my trust in the abundance that the world has to offer. I also shift the focus towards what I can give (solicited advice, feedback, assistance to others), rather than what I can get.   In turn, the conversations and interactions that happen tend to flow much more smoothly, thus leading to more memorable connections and follow-up conversations.   These follow-up, one-on-one coffee meetings with people from my networking events (and follow-ups on each of those meetings periodically), lead to furthering the four goals that I mentioned above (connecting, learning, being inspired, and helping others). 

A concrete example of a recent “successful” networking experience of mine? Recently, I attended a “Founders Friday” networking event at Norm’s Coffee Foundry, and I was moved and inspired by the story of the guest speaker, Ms. Tiffany Yu, the founder of an organization called “Diversability.”  Her story of overcoming a difficult life occurrence — and forming an entity and community that helps to empower and connect disabled people and able-bodied individuals – really inspired me, and made my day run much more smoothly.  In speaking with Ms. Yu afterwards, my aim was not so much to become the attorney for her group, but rather, to see if her group can assist a friend of mine, who suffers from a disability.  After that interaction, I found myself being approached by another guest of that function, where I was asked for (and provided) some helpful advice, regarding a legal dilemma that they were having.  While I don’t know if that person will ever become a client or not, I do know that the good feeling I had after leaving that networking breakfast helped me to focus more on my current clients’ matters – and inspired me to write this article.

Other examples? When I attended a “We Love Numbers” networking event in November of 2015, and a “100 Lawyers Strong” event in January of this year, I met so many interesting entrepreneurs and attorneys, which inspired me to write an article.  That, in turn, led to several connections on social media, which led to some mutual introductions, which led to a client – three months after the November, 2015 “We Love Numbers” networking event.  Thus, I called these events “successful” in my book.  When we string together enough of these positive networking experiences, we find ourselves feeling more connected and more productive.  We further tend to leave a much more positive impression on our co-networkers.  Perhaps that person whom you offered help to at an event will someday need a quote from you for an article that they are writing, or will seek out your assistance later down the road.  Or maybe they’ll invite you to speak at a workshop, which leads to a client four months later.  Your “return on investment” from networking can be measured in these gradual occurrences, rather than in a quid-pro-quo fashion. 

Let Go of Comparing With Others At An Event, And Self-Judgment Will Dissipate:

Finally, no article with tips on networking would be complete if it did not address a very natural phenomenon, which often interferes with successful networking:  we (all) can get a bit self-conscious or nervous in new settings.  Perhaps talking to strangers is not something that you are accustomed to.  So how does one shed the butterflies in their stomach? (Aside from feeding them too much beer or wine?)  I believe the answer is simple (but not necessarily easy, and thus takes practice): first, let go of judging or comparing yourself with others at a networking group or event!  Wherever you are in your process, in your career, your job search, or with your business, try to accept that state, as being perfectly fine.  Whether you are in between jobs and in search of a new position, or just starting your business and working from your living room, you are all together, at this common networking event or group.  Just remember that nobody there is better or worse than anyone else in the room – just different in their circumstances, perhaps.  Secondly, if you’re still feeling shy or nervous at a networking function, try to find at least two instances, to seek out and speak with someone at the event, who looks like they are more nervous than you are.  If you focus on making that person feel more at ease, you’d be surprised how quickly your own anxiety will dissipate – thus freeing you up to share yourself, your ideas, your questions, and your perfectly imperfect self with those at the networking event (don’t worry, I’ll stop short of referencing Stuart Smalley’s affirmations from the old Saturday Night Live episodes… oh, what the heck: “you’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and doggone it, people like you!”) 

Conclusive Thoughts About Networking: Bringing Your A-Game, And Having Fun In The Process:

Networking is about forming bonds; about developing and building mutual trust with new or currently known people.  Those bonds of trust are an essential element for forming any lasting professional relationships (or any relationships, for that matter – but that’s an entirely different article).  Eventually, getting to know people while networking will inspire them (and you) to introduce each other to your trusted colleagues, thus expanding your professional network of referral sources, colleagues, and clients.  That’s the beauty of networking: it’s more of a “slow cooking crock-pot” experience, rather than an “instant microwave” result.  Who knows whether the help you give to someone, or the guidance that they provide, might someday come in handy for either of you, or for countless others? Some ripple effects are positive, and steady / persistent networking creates many such positive professional ripples.  

With these aims and tips in mind, I wish you luck in your networking endeavors!

By: Eric Sarver, Esq.

Eric Sarver, Esq. is an attorney with seventeen years of experience practicing law — nearly fifteen of which as the sole proprietor / principal at The Law Offices of Eric M. Sarver.  Mr. Sarver’s practice areas include: labor & employment law, business law and contracts, for small businesses, social entrepreneurs and non-profits.  He is admitted to practice law in the State of New York, and in the federal courts, in the Eastern and Southern Districts of New York.  For questions in New York State involving a specific contract, an employment law-related matter or other legal issues that your business is dealing with, feel free to contact Eric M. Sarver, Esq. at:  Tel: 917-930-8684; E-mail: ems@ericsarver.com; Web: www.sarver-law.com

Separate and apart from his law practice, Mr. Sarver is the Founder and Organizer of The NYC Inter-Connected Professionals Networking Group.  The group meets monthly, has a guest speaker and open networking, for professionals of varied interests and disciplines. Their next meeting is on Wed, March 9th, from 6pm to 9pm at the Stone Creek Lounge in NYC.  Web:http://www.meetup.com/The-NYC-Inter-Connected-Professionals-Networking-Group/events/228883944/