How to network authentically
Let's face it, the idea of subjecting yourself to yet another networking event seems less and less appealing after a while. Even a self-proclaimed "powerhouse" will eventually lose steam when it comes to working the room and engaging in forced, face-to-face interaction with strangers.
Maybe you have a looming deadline at work, or maybe you've simply been burning the candle at both ends for far too long - whatever it is, we've all been there. You agreed to go to this event weeks ago, and now that the day is here, you're contemplating the fastest way to go home and jump into sweat pants ASAP. It doesn't have t be like that! There's a formula for how to actually network authentically, and it totally makes it worth your while.
GET OUT OF YOUR OWN HEAD
There's something about attending a networking event that makes us feel like we are walking onto the set of Shark Tank. Often times, we have already worked up in our own heads that "this is our chance" to make that one amazing connection that could change everything. Or that we need to really show up in a BIG way to make a good impression - it's not only overwhelming, it's exhausting! The key is to view an event like this for exactly what it is - a way to make new friends. If we remove the hype, and maybe even the idea that someone in this room has the missing puzzle piece, we can actually relax. Walking into a networking event as if you were walking into a friend's house warming party gives it a completely different feel. Once you're able to cancel out the idea of meeting people and instantly thinking, "what can you do for me?", everything changes. Business relationships are very much like personal relationships - not every personality type is meant to be, and those who are a good fit will just click.
MAKE FRIENDS NOT FRE-NEMIES
Back to the house party, grab a drink and mingle as you normally would. Dive in head first with zero expectations. Think of this as an opportunity to make new friends, rather than new business connections. The idea of being strictly business adds an element of competition - it's human nature. But when you view every conversation as a possible new friend, rather than sizing each other up, you're able to have a much more authentic interaction. When engaging in conversation, don't even worry about talking shop. Instead, get to know one another, and ask yourself, "is this someone I could hang out with again?", just as if you were dating for a new friend. If it's a good fit, the rest of the business pieces will fall into place naturally. At some point, you will be asked what it is that you do, so make sure to have a clear and concise explanation ready to go. Because you never know who you might meet, don't stress it if these conversations don't instantly inspire you to work together. You might meet someone in a completely different industry, and six months later realize they would make a great addition to something you have in the pipeline. For example: If you're a stylist, and you hit it off with a fellow creative who happens to make gourmet cake-pops, don't discredit this connection. Later down the line you might host an open house event, and having those cake-pops available for your guests will really come in handy!
Be sure to strike while the iron is hot. We all know the best time to re-connect is shortly after meeting for the first time, even just sending a quick note the next morning while everyone is still buzzing from the night before is perfect. Start by sending a short email to open the lines of communication, and express how great it was to meet your new friend. The next step is one that far too many people miss these days. Keeping with the theme of making new friends, rather than business contacts - don't just reach out when you have something business-y going on! Instead, in about a week or so, keep yourself on their radar by sending a non-work email to them. For example, if you come across a really inspiring story about a female entrepreneur in their industry, send them the story and say something like, "saw this today and totally thought of you - cheers to killing it this week!". How much more authentic is that?! Rather than reaching out and coming across as sales-y, treat everyone like a new member of your tribe and genuinely connect on a more authentic level. Chances are, when they are in the market for your services, or know someone who is, you'll be the first person who comes to mind!