By: Kira Nurieli
I recently attended a business networking event at which there was a palpable common thread: Nobody wanted to be there. I heard things like, “I hate networking events, but I figured I’d give it a shot,” and “I know this is how I’m supposed to market myself, so it’s a necessary evil.” One woman was an introvert and felt uncomfortable in crowds. Another expressed that she was exhausted at the end of a long day.
So if no one wanted to be there, why did they come? Is it really the right way to get ahead? What do we get out of networking, and why?
The answer is in our DNA: Humans are pack animals. We’re not meant to be alone. We need each other for survival. We provide each other with support, comfort, protection, and guidance. Together, we have a better chance at succeeding. So, why do we cringe at the idea of a networking event — what is causing this reluctance, or even dread?
Here’s what most people think of when they are headed to an event: a large crowd of new faces with little in common. Walking around the room without much direction. Repeatedly introducing ourselves to people we don’t really get to know, deeply. It’s a numbers game, and we’re looking for the target client or audience, hoping she or he is in the crowd.
But that’s a false approach. And here’s why.
As stated, we’re pack animals. We’re not robots. We’re not built to connect with tens or hundreds of people in mindless and superficial relations. These large numbers of loose connections leave us depressed and feeling alone in the crowd. Instead of feeling supported, we feel vulnerable and weak. We’re built to seek out people to trust and create a solid, deep, mutual connection, and instead we get lost in these mass numbers of faces in a crowd.
So, how do you transform the networking event into a situation you look forward to and really gain from? The answer is to tap into that pack animal DNA. Search for meaningful connections and hone in. Limit your contact and focus.
Rather than engaging in brief introductions and popping in and out of conversations, dive deep into one or two. Find a handful (at most!) of people with whom you will spend the bulk of your time. Get to know them fully. Validate them. Listen for their unique gifts and value. Honor their human-ness. And share yours.
By limiting your scope at networking events, you will create deeper and more meaningful connections. You’ll drive not only your own success, but that of the friends that you make. Limiting your conversations radically increases the likelihood of ongoing dialogue that will get you ahead in your career and lead to longer-term relationships.
Focusing on the few seems antithetical when you enter a room full of people. Remind yourself of the 80/20 rule and limit your interactions — you’ll come away refreshed and excited about your new friends, rather than frustrated with wasted time on small talk.
At this networking event I attended, I knew that despite the numbers, it was not a numbers game. I chose to take my time with two or three quality interactions, rather than constantly peeking over my shoulder for who I could meet next. I listened closely to the women I met, was duly impressed with their talents and experience, and am now dead-set on supporting them in furthering their careers.
And you know what? I received a heartfelt email from one of the women I met. She thanked me for the long and meaningful conversation, for listening to her story with interest, and she invited me to grab a cup of coffee and strategize how we can help each other. Likewise, I received two other LinkedIn requests right away, and I plan to get together with these new friends, as well.
I missed meeting most of the attendees at the event. Instead, the few I spoke with truly appreciated our conversation, and the feeling was mutual. The value of these intimate interactions will no doubt take us far and lead to the kind of friendship and support that networking can and should be about.
[Related: Making Connections, with Cecilia Nelson]
Kira Nurieli specializes in training clients how to analyze crises, conflicts, and challenges in order to effectively manage businesses, boost product sales, and communicate with team members.
Originally published at www.ellevatenetwork.com.