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Now there’s a loaded question.  It’s one I get asked a lot, particularly by people who are in a frantic state about their careers and businesses, are new in town, or are new to the whole notion of networking.  If you want a traditional answer on which networking events you should consider attending, read Chapter 7 in my book The Intentional Networker.  It offers some specific and valuable insights on networking and standing out in the crowd.

But this isn’t meant to be a commercial for my book. Well, ok, maybe it is.  But I also want to offer another approach to the when-where-and-how question. Get ready for a blinding flash of the obvious.  When you’re in a dither about networking consider this:  wherever you go, wherever you might encounter people (those you already know and/or those you don’t), consider it a networking event. Networking happens everywhere.

Be open & prepared

Professional association luncheons? Chamber of commerce meetings? Annual conferences? The obligatory networking meetups and happy hours?  Yes, these are networking events and you should absolutely consider attending a few.  But don’t forget the dog park, the gym, the grocery store, that class you’re taking, or your neighborhood coffee shop, burger joint, or pub.  Don’t go to these places and suddenly clam up.  Try something crazy: if you see someone who looks interesting throw caution to the wind and say hello.  What harm can it do?  If you suspect they are an ax-wielding serial killer, by all means turn tail and run. But remember that most people are good and will at least say hello back.

In listening to a lecture by Dan Heath, co-author of Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work, I learned something cool about good decision-making that can be applied to networking. Here it is:  widen your options.  Widen the scope of where you could potentially meet people and connect, for business or for personal reasons.

Then take a cue from the Girl Scouts: be prepared.  Have at least some idea of what your socializing style and preferences are.  Know what value you could bring to others, even if it’s just to brighten their day.  Know what kinds of people you’d like to attract into your world and what kind of outcome you desire.  This pre-work is the foundation of being a more Intentional Networker as opposed to purely going after the Ms. or Mr Congeniality Award.

Below are my guidelines about socializing and networking at the moment.  I prepare by reviewing this before I step out the door.

  • I want to meet, be introduced to, and get to know interesting, intelligent, fun, positive people who are doing cool things that they’re passionate about.
  • I’d rather have a few interesting, meaningful, memorable conversations than flit about the room blurting out fake “pickup lines” and tossing my business cards about.
  • I like learning about people, who they are, what they’re doing, what they’re passionate about, what they want to achieve, where they’ve been, and where they want to go.
  • I like being generous, offering up what I know and what I’m doing in a way that intrigues and/or serves others.
  • I’m honestly more interested in people than the sale, but paradoxically (I love this part) it often brings me business, opportunities, and definitely great connections.

It’s pretty simple and it works for me.

That’s the point. Networking can be simple and it should work for you. You just have to be open-minded and have the tiniest bit of a plan.

What’s yours?