This Is Why Networking Sucks

And This Is What You Can Do About It

“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

We all know networking is a necessary evil. Whether we want to climb the corporate ladder or launch the next billion-dollar startup, we need help and we need it from other people we haven’t met yet.

Unfortunately for us, the world of networking seems to be one of the last industries still stuck in the horse-and-buggy era. Most networking events follow the same broken format:

Invite as many people as you can + give them free booze + make them wear a name tag = see what happens

I’ll tell you what happens — a whole lot of people wasting precious time.

Don’t get me wrong. In the right context, I love meeting new people. I’m absolutely obsessed with connecting over shared ideas. In fact, as corny as it sounds, I’ve realized my goal in life is the create a smaller world connected by ideas.

I may love discussing ideas with others, but I can’t stand small talk — it’s also a waste of time.

I know, I know. How else are we supposed to break the ice and form a bond with someone else after meeting them for the first time?

If you ask me, you go straight for the metaphorical jugular and shatter the ice completely.

We’re all so afraid of being vulnerable and making a fool out of ourselves that we try and charm the other person into liking us, which takes time, both yours and theirs.

In reality, we’re all human. We all have our own wants, needs, desires, motivations, quirks, and interests and we desperately want to share them with others.

How can we do this without scaring someone off?

Here are some suggestions for making networking suck a little less when meeting new people:

  • Ask what brings them here in the first place. 
    What are they looking for? Once you do, look for opportunities to understand them rather than opportunities to talk.
  • Ask how you can help.
    This means putting their needs in front of your own. I know this seems pretty foreign thanks to self-preservation, but being the most helpful person in the room is never a bad idea.
  • Ask them what they enjoy doing instead of what they do.
    This opens up the conversation and acknowledges the fact that not everyone is defined by their job title. Believe it or not, but there are plenty of people who hate their jobs.
  • Ask them about their last idea.
    As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” Give them a chance to share a quirky idea they’ve been sitting on for a while.
  • Ask if they want to grab coffee sometime.
    Battling with the noise and chaos of the networking event can be exhausting. Pick a neutral place where you can follow up and have a real conversation, one-on-one.

It’s pretty obvious, but all of the above suggestions have on thing in common:

They all start with, “Ask them.”

Yes, this was intentional.

Part of the issue with traditional networking is that everyone is focused on their own needs.

It’s no secret that you’re looking for something — a new client, a better job, a co-founder, you name it.

The thing is, so is the other person. The sooner we can all acknowledge that, the quicker we can start providing value for each other. Try giving them the stage first and you’ll suddenly notice networking isn’t as bad as you thought.

If we take the time to adopt this mindset, we can call help networking suck a little less.


William Frazier is a designer, writer, and founder who blogs about making ideas happen at The Imperfectionist. For helpful tidbits on making your own ideas happen, join his newsletter and follow him on Twitter.

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