As one of the most introverted personality types there is, saying networking doesn't come naturally to me would be a massive understatement. And that is exactly why I recently took a networking mini course. Here's what I learned.
The networking mini course that I took was authored by Zak Slayback. Zak is a seriously impressive college dropout who creates tons of great content around accelerating your career. A lot of this content he shares for free, through his newsletter. So I highly recommend subscribing to that newsletter, as well as taking this course.
Zak's main point in the mini course is that 80% of networking is just about not doing it wrong. So it's not about any fancy secrets to networking that you have to learn; the main thing is just that you don't screw it up by doing something stupid.
This is why this mini course is focused on 7 deadly sins you should avoid. The 7 don'ts of networking are based on the notes I took:
1) Don't go to networking events
Networking events are a waste of time. Important and busy people don't have time to go to networking events, so the only people you'll meet there are other seekers. You need to go to events where the primary function isn't networking, such as conferences, conventions, seminars, workshops, fundraisers and leisure events.
Ask yourself: where are the people I want to meet? How valuable is their time? Where do they go and how can I get there?
2) Don't build merely transactional relationships
Most people network with the idea of getting something out of it; the "what's in it for me"-mindset. This never works. You need to focus on building authentic relationships that will last. So flip it around and ask yourself what you can do for this person, instead.
There's truth to the age-old wisdom that the best way to make friends is to be one. Ask people to talk about themselves. Get to know them and figure out how you can create value in their lives.
3) Don't seek status over substance
Another common mistake is to only approach the flashiest, coolest, most important person in the room; and to disregard everyone else.
Next time, instead of getting in line to talk to the key person at an event (e.g. the speaker or author), consider approaching the moderator. Moderators are likely to know lots of people at the event and be generally well-connected too.
4) Don't stick to the script
There are tons of questions that are so standard that they could almost be considered a script.
What do you do? Where are you from? Where'd you go to college? What did you major in?
Questions like these tend to make your brain go on autopilot and run off a bunch of standard answers you've given countless times before. You don't want to be on autopilot; and neither do the people you're talking to.
So break the script!
Break your own script of standard answers and also break the script of the people you're talking to, by asking them questions they likely have never been asked before. So think of something that this person would love to talk about; and likely is (almost) never asked.
Asking original questions like this is also a great way to make yourself memorable.
5) Don't lack a social hobby
If you don't have a context where you could ask people to casually meet, you lack a social hobby. Casually meeting is not meeting for coffee, but an occasion where you meet for other reasons than just to meet (see #1).
A social hobby is any type of recreational or leisure context in which you can get people together to continue the relationship-building process
This part is key: you need to enjoy it!
So choose something you like doing. Golf is a popular social hobby, but if you hate golf, you can think of things like hiking, skiiing, concerts, parties, casual dinners or sailing.
6) Don't forget to follow up quickly and appropriately
If you really want to build your network, you need to follow up with the people you meet. Preferably the next day.
It also needs to be appropriate. You need to reinforce the point of meeting you at the event, so think of the scripts you broke (see #4) and the notes you took about this person. The best thing to do is if you can create a little bit of value for them. For example, sending them a link, book, video, photo or article that they will value.
Added benefit here is that you'll have something you can continue the conversation with.
7) Don't pitch too much, too soon
Finally, it's vitally important that you do things in the right order. You first need to get to know somebody and build some rapport before you can ask for any favors. Asking somebody for a big commitment before you get to know them properly is a rookie mistake – one that I personally made not too long ago.
You need to have a sense of what your social capital with this person is, before you ask something that is disproportionate to the capital you have.
It's helpful here, to think of your social capital as a bank account. You first need to make a few deposits into the account before you can withdraw. If you don't you'll overdraw and depend on credit that you may not yet have with this person.
You make deposits into the social capital account by creating little bits of value for somebody (see #2). A pleasant conversation, an introduction to somebody that they'll like, a link to an article they may find interesting, recommending an online tool that will make their lives easier; all simple examples of how you can make small deposits into your social capital account.
As a general rule: three gives before an ask.
This article about the 7 deadly sins of networking was based on Zak Slayback's networking mini course, which, again, I highly recommend.
I know I've committed quite a few of these sins in the past. But henceforth, I shall sin no more. And neither should you.