Nuanced Networking: connecting outside comfort zones

Networking - whether the sentiment that it’s not what you know, but who you know resonates with you or not - there’s no denying that a capacity for connections will propel you forward. We’re exploring the art of graceful networking as part of our Audacious August series. So how do you make a meaningful impression without desperately grasping at progressively evaporating bamboo-straw references at your next networking opportunity?

The traditional ideas around networking immediately splits our humanoid group in two. You’re either an extrovert who thrives on meeting new people and discovering how much you both have an affinity for Ultimate Frisbee; or you’re the introvert who’d rather be hiding behind her screen, contributing to creative economics in her own comfort zone. There’s more to it than your self-perception and views on social anxiety however.

“Mastering the art of professional networking is a skill that you’ll be forever grateful for.”

Being a nuanced networker is heavily dependent on your level (or lack) of audacity. The success of your confidence (or arrogance) in your capacity as a fearless female, as discussed in our previous article, depends on your utilisation of it. There is a peculiar perception about women being either too forward or too modest when networking; and the latter often results in our female peers not being invited to the table where their voices are so desperately needed.

So how do you tap into your inner-miss-congeniality and ensure that you walk away with valuable connections, instead of a bunch of empty promises in the form of a nifty business card collection?

Here are a few considerations to align your audacity before you embark on the thrilling journey that is known as ‘working the room.’

Networking Events, Everywhere!

Let’s get things straight, you need to start thinking about that mid-week braai; rescheduled coffee date; back of flight leg stretch and randomly-running-into-a-mutual-friend-3-minute-catch-up as networking bliss. These social events are golden opportunities and don’t give us any condescending guff. Your peers should have time to discuss how your business connection will uplift them too - so how about you have a little self-respect and value your offering. Once you cross the border of false-modesty you’ll find that networking will become palpably easier regardless of your circumstances.

Establish Your Agenda

It’s business, you need an agenda. Determine what your ‘Big Ask’ is. What do you want to walk away with today? Be confident and audacious about your goal and don’t relent until you’re satisfied that you’ve given it your all. If you’ve set out to get acquainted with 5 people, but it’s the toughest crowd and harshest circumstances, then don’t leave without 1 new contact at minimum. Force yourself to make 1 valuable acquaintance before you exit stage left. You’ll soon find that it’s rarely the circumstances holding you back, but instead your doubt and anxiety getting the better of you.

“Combat doubt by switching your angle to view every person you fail to meet as a lost opportunity to the top.”

Listen & Learn

There is no easier way of earning someone’s trust than listening intentionally to what it is that they’re passionate about. Networking gracefully is all about provision and reception. Don’t neglect the ‘give’. If you’re going to engage in the reciprocal dance of networking then be sure to provide your new acquaintance with the floor to discuss their drive.

Be A Connector

Shake the feeling that you’re rushing conversations and representing a false version of your ideals. Business is business and every other person attending that networking event is on the same mission as you are - getting some dollar for momma! Be cordial enough to establish the business demands of those you meet - you might just benefit by connecting attendees with someone you know. In time you’ll have built a trustworthy repertoire as someone that is well-connected, unselfish and willing to invest in relationships - how refreshing!

“Be conscientious of who needs what, even if it doesn’t involve you or your services.”

Personal Touch Trumps Technology

We live in a fast paced world of Instant Messaging and connecting via LinkedIn, but your personality is still the most memorable vice you have. Make it work for you and dare to turn on the charm when meeting that unimaginative suit - anyone can get automated, boring responses from their gmail/newsfeed any time.

“Be vivid, be vivacious, be valiant and connect IRL.”

The Follow-Up

You’ve faced your fears, spoken to a sea of strangers and returned to the comfort of your office with valuable contact details. Now it’s time for that follow-up mail or phone call. Make no mistake, the follow-up is equally as important as the initial contact. A simple anecdote will instantly remind the person on the other end who, out of the 100 eager prospective partners that spoke to them at the networking event, you are.

“Introducing a strategy to your communication is just another way to upskill yourself - so stop feeling tacky and burn that progressive tekkie!”

If the thought of pitching your million dollar idea to an influential senior still terrifies you, think about it this way: networking is another way of building relationships. Consider your top 5 mutually beneficial business relationships and the, sometimes awkward, coincidental steps that lead to where you are now. We’re human - relationships shouldn't be intimidating and neither should networking!

“The next conversation, however brief and unnatural, might be the one that can turn a startup girl into a glamorous Google.”

Be sure to check out our previous Audacious August articles for more on how to embrace your audacity. We’ll even throw in a talk at your company or next event - why not! So feel free to contact us to schedule a fun-filled and unfiltered chat about better business.

Kind Regards The JA. Team