“It was a run by fruiting!”
Somewhat startled, our group of friends stared at me. The phrase I had blurted out was from the 1993 film, Mrs. Doubtfire and had absolutely nothing to do with the conversation at hand. It was, however, the predetermined signal and upon hearing it, my girlfriend and I locked eyes and initiated our exit strategy. We murmured something about the time and said goodbye to close friends. We approached the bar and gave the universal gesture to close out our tabs and ducked out the side exit. Was it smooth? Not at all. I didn’t care. I immediately wanted to be on my couch, watching an episode of Game of Thrones before bed.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed our night out with friends, but I was very much ready to go home. I’m an extroverted introvert. I enjoy being out with friends until the minute that I don’t enjoy it anymore. When that happens, I need my time alone to recharge. I’m less of a social butterfly and more like a social bear that needs to go into hibernation now and again.
This isn’t terribly remarkable or unheard of, except for the fact that the largest components of my job are being seen, making introductions, rubbing elbows, and trading business cards. That’s right, I have to *insert dramatic pause* network.
While most of us were taught that there’s a formal path to success, the vast majority of things get done through unofficial channels. Most opportunities, big and small, come from knowing a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy. I was referred to the last four companies I worked at by friends that worked there. When I bought my house, I met my lender through my brother-in-law. I recently saved hundreds of dollars on a new iMac because a woman I worked with introduced me to a friend of hers that worked at Apple. It’s all who you know and networking is vital to get to know the guy who knows a guy.
Unfortunately, most of us have been taught that networking means rolling into a happy hour with smarmy guys that call waitresses “sweetheart” and give finger guns to punctuate sentences; that meeting people required at least a six sigma second degree green belt and a postgraduate degree in schmoozing; that if you’re a developer, or a photographer or a physicist, or any other profession that’s stereotypically introverted, you’re doomed to be terrible at networking. I’m here to tell you that’s a big ol’ sack of malarkey. Here are tips on how to network if the thought of walking up to a group of strangers at a happy hour saps you of your energy.
Exhibitions or Unveilings as Networking
Whether the event is the unveiling of a new model automobile, an art exhibit, or a prototype of a new mobile application, gatherings that revolve around concrete objects have the benefit of having easily accessible conversation starters. “Man, that feature was amazing, what type of other applications do you see it having?” “I love how aggressive the wider tires look. Do you think it’s too drastic a change from the previous model?” “This piece reminds me of one of Dan Winter’s photographs. Where do you suppose the artist drew inspiration from?”
Volunteer Work as Networking
Volunteer-based organizations often depend on people coming back to help, so they want to make the experience as pleasant as possible. This means that 99.999% of the time, those involved are incredibly accepting, friendly, and hospitable, making getting to know those involved near effortless. Volunteer work can also be a sweet resume booster. Add to that the increasing importance on corporate citizenship, you may even find yourself working alongside someone at that company you’re trying to get hired by, or a prospective client.
Activity based Networking
Whether it’s a local bocce ball league, brewing class, or a knitting group, having a specific activity at the center of a group allows you to concentrate on what you’re doing rather than starting conversations. When you’re on a team with someone, attending or teaching a class, or supporting someone, the activity itself breaks the ice and conversation will come naturally. This type of networking offers a prime opportunity to demonstrate your ability to work well with others and spotlight leadership skills.
Common Interest Meetups
People love to talk about their interests. Whether the group is a local political organization, .NET meetup, or book club, every city will almost certainly have an organization devoted to something that you’re interested in. These common interests provide an easy, low-risk jump off point for conversations and getting to know one another. Evidence suggests that having common interests between employees and their managers positively impacts the perception of the quality of work and ideas for both parties.
For many of us, the thought of going up to a group of strangers, and simply starting a conversation off-the-cuff is incredibly uncomfortable. The trick with all of the suggested happy hour alternatives is to find something rooted in what you are comfortable with. This allows you to keep one foot on familiar ground while you get to know others. If you pick events that center on your passions or an area of expertise, you’ll find a sense of security that you might not have at a drinks-and-mingle style event. With that safe element, you’ll see that networking is nothing more than getting to know people and it gets a little easier with each event.
Now go get ‘em tiger! *finger guns*