The Networking Trick You Need To Try
Successfully sitting on the couch for a few weeks, mastering my unemployment, the time arrived when I needed to get out and make some connections. A little birdie (blue I think or maybe white) told me someone was looking for volunteers for a networking event. I marked it on my calendar. Not to volunteer, just to attend. Because volunteering wasn’t going to get me anything… Wait, could it?
Networking events consist of people just running around for business cards. Tired of that approach, I wanted to see if volunteering might offer me a different way in to meet people. A back door approach if you will.
Let me recount a bit of the story and then tie in how everything worked out.
Strolled in about two hours before the event started and was put to the busy work. Taping down signs, moving tables, hanging other signs. Just when I was about to chalk this up as a service night, I realized my “in”.
Vendors starting arriving and I was the first to greet them and assist them in their questions. I got the small talk that everyone else later would be jealous of.
Then I was set to man the bar where every person and their CEO came to grab free beers. They walked up to me with smiles as I was the one serving them their favorite snack; Everyone loved me!
Towards the end of the night, I recognized faces and knew names of people. Most importantly, they knew me too.
When we finished the clean-up, the cheerful organizers dismissed me. As I walked away, one of the event organizers called me back to make sure I knew about an upcoming event where I would get to meet a lot of people (this time not volunteering). This made my night that the people cared enough to make sure I was in the loop.
If you haven’t already picked up on the finer details, here’s what I learned from volunteering, instead of awkwardly attending, a networking event.
The Right People
Here’s your ideal scenario: Standing in line for a free drink. Bump into someone and politely strike up conversation. Turns out the other person is actually the CEO for a successful company and wants to talk to you next week because she finds you fascinating.
Sounds fictional right? Well that’s cause your strategy faces the end goal. Take a note from Malcolm Gladwell and go after the connectors. These are the people who know everyone.
Who do you think would know everyone at a networking event? Bingo — the organizers. And who had the chance to meet these people, give them value, and develop a small relationship? That’s right, I did.
By volunteering, I instantly became an asset to the organizers. They viewed me as someone with importance and by the end of the night, wanted to give back the value that I had given them first.
They introduced me to others and kept coming back to check on me. Even though the introductions were nice, the best part was actually getting to know the event organizers better. This wasn’t a casual chat but a clear bonding experience trying to get a hectic event under control.
Some people go for as many business cards as they can muster. I think these kinds of people are foolish. It’s not the quantity of people because most will forget you by the next week; it’s about developing a small (mutually-beneficial) relationship with a few people that you will be able to connect with in the future. And if you can get the people who know others and want to help you out, even better.
Early Bird Gets The Worm
If you volunteer at a networking event, make sure you arrive earlier than the start time. The period beforehand is the calm before the storm. If you arrive after the chaos has started, you just become a worker bee and will not be able to meet everyone nor be seen.
I noticed that most vendors get there early to set up their equipment. When they are done, they just sit and wait. This is the perfect opportunity, as a volunteer to inquire if they need any assistance.
And get this, they are bored and eager to talk to you. Regular people are fighting for a fraction of attention while you had their private audience.
Let me emphasize this point with a personal success.
I had the pleasure of meeting one of the HR leaders of a sponsoring organization. We chatted for about 5 minutes, shared some personal events in our lives, and by the end, she wanted me to connect with her in the future about a potential job opportunity. And nope, not fictional in the slightest.
Even if you’re not going to volunteer, at least create an opportune moment to get to know people. I promise you it’s worth every second.
Avoid The Awkward
Personally, I don’t struggle at networking events. I can step into conversations if I really want to but there are times when it feels a little too forced. By volunteering, you place yourself in the position of authority and knowledge. And this gravitates everyone towards you!
If there is any benefit of volunteering at a networking event, it is feigning control and power. I was just a volunteer, an unemployed nobody. Yet, people approached me inquiring about myself. Let’s just say I left out the unemployed part when describing myself.
The point: awkwardness stirs when people know they have to go around introducing themselves to a lot of people. By changing your role at the event, you don’t have to be the awkward one. Rather, you become a shield of protection to others when they have a question (in reality they just want to talk to someone but need a break from generating enough courage to say hi to a random person).
While other people were busy trying to meet anyone and everyone, I was handing out beers to happy people. Some people wouldn’t like this role but I looked at it as a way to enjoy a networking event instead of being under stress.
By going in without expectations or a hidden agenda, I prepped for anything. This mindset calmed me and let me relax. I laughed throughout the night and left thinking that if nothing came out of it, at least I had a great time.
Don’t forget this rule:
Give Value First
Most people try to fight the snake of networking head on. But I chose a different attack — one that others neglect. By using a “back door”, I had an access point that others would have killed for. And it’s all because I chose to give value first before asking for something.
As an unemployed graduate, why would people take an interest in me if I’m asking for their help right off the bat? I have no connections to offer and no deals to make. The only way around this issue is to somehow get in the good graces of people so they desire to contribute to my life.
Networking is the problem and volunteering is the answer. I’m not going to volunteer at every event but just by doing it this one time, I have connections with resourceful people in the community.
Trust me and try it out for yourself. You won’t regret it.
Pressing that recommend takes nothing from you and would mean the world to me. Thanks for your time!
Originally published at www.erichq.com.
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