Is it possible to connect on an organic level anymore when it comes to networking?
I definitely think so. But what I also believe is the word “networking” itself conjures up a painful visual image, both in an offline and online context that makes it difficult for many to get the most out of it. In person, networking can be a stiff affair, peppered by the first awkward ten minutes in a full room of people where the coat has been checked in, the name tag is on, and making the first move to introduce yourself to virtually anyone new can be extremely nerve-wracking, even with a complimentary glass of wine to help curb the butterflies.
Other times networking is viewed as a race – like a business version of “The Hunger Games” where the attendant enters with one thing and one thing only on their mind: collecting business cards and getting as many of their own out to the most prominent people there. Beyond fear and treating the event as a competition, networking nights often leave those attending in the same comfort zone they arrived in: see a person you know, spend the majority of the night by their side, and meet a few new people but not nearly as many as you hoped had you decided to branch off early and look solo.
In switching to online networking, this is viewed as less painful to conduct business on because it lacks the awkward moments of face-to-face encounters. In a wonderful infographic on visual.ly on the 100 Social Networking Statistics & Facts in 2012, 40% polled stated that they socialized more online than they did face-to-face. And why wouldn’t they, when it was also mentioned that there were more devices connected to the internet than they were people on Earth? When all of the business cards have been dumped out on the table, the LinkedIn requests sent out, and the acceptances emailed back, how often does one go back and check in on those that they’ve connected with on LinkedIn? A person could be looking to break into the same company as a distant LinkedIn pal only to message them and discover they aren’t even with the same company anymore but have yet to update that portion of their profile.
Break free of staying within the same networking night bubble you (predictably) know far too well and begin meeting and greeting fresh faces at the following everyday places:
1) Outdoor Cafes
At a local cafe or coffee shop? Head outside and grab a table there before deciding to sit indoors. Generally outdoor seating tends to be a lot less noisy than indoor and allows for more people watching as well as dog watching – provided a puppy gets close enough to your table, the latter of which can make for an excellent icebreaker to meet both the dog and the owner and introduce yourself.
2) Gas Stations
Instead of checking your Facebook feed while waiting at the pump, take the opportunity to chat with the person getting gas next to you. As with all of these places on this list, don’t be pushy or annoying when it comes to striking up a conversation – I would never jump in by immediately saying, “Looks like YOU could use some incorporation services from my company MyCorporation.com!” while simultaneously trying to shove my business card in someone’s free hand. That kills any shred of the interaction being organic it could possibly have. If the other person displays body language that says they don’t want to keep talking, don’t push it and exit politely.
3) Pick-Up and Drop-Off at Elementary Schools
This one may be a little trickier to navigate in the mornings when most parents are rushing the kids in for class and heading to work after, but at the end of the day there’s often a little more room to talk if you arrive for pick up early. Beyond just networking, this is a great opportunity to get to know other fellow room moms who undoubtedly will be equally as interested in getting to know more about you in kind.
4) Sporting Events
Whether it’s a Little League championship or attending a Dodgers game on a Saturday afternoon, we’re all more likely to be preoccupied with cheering on the home team than we would be turning to the person beside us and inquiring about what they did for a living. My recommendation is if you arrive early to the game, take the time to walk around, scope out the crowds, and see if you can strike up a quick conversation about yourself. (Bonus points if they’re rooting for the same team to win you are.)
5) Shuttle Busses/Rideshares
While being at an airport or 30,000 feet in the air on your flight both make for great places to network, you can’t neglect the opportunities that can be found on the shuttle bus en route to or from the airport. For those hesitant about connecting via public transit, rideshares and shuttles are often much smaller and more intimate spaces to start talking in – as well as end it on a non-creepy “they won’t follow me out of this bus once I’m off, will they?” note.
6) Waiting Rooms
Whether it’s a trip to the kids’ pediatrician or an antsy 20 minutes before a dental appointment, skip the tired magazine on the table for a chance to chat with another person waiting nearby.
7) Grocery Stores
Again, this is one of those places where you have to toe the line between seeming either polite or pushy and keep in mind that some people may be in a rush. But if you’re stuck in a long check-out line, why not take a chance and chat with the person next to you? You never know – that could be your next strategic partner in the making!