Stop overthinking networking

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If you were to find one topic near and dear to most thought leaders, I think networking ideas might be it. People love to write long, breathless articles about how to network better, how to get 1 million leads, all that type of stuff. Most of these articles are 35,000-foot advice that a normal human being would never know how to apply (“network with purpose, young Jedi”), so it’s essentially largely worthless. If a thought leader’s quote panel falls in the forest but no one knows how to execute on it, did the quote panel really garner any “engagement?” These are the questions of our time.

So what would actionable advice around networking ideas look like?

Networking ideas, Step 1: Don’t over-think it

Here is one of the most amazing things about human interaction. Literally the question you will get the most in your life — far and away — is “What do you do?” Despite that, many people have no clue how to answer this question in an engaging way. Usually you get “I’m an oil and gas guy” or “I’m in finance.” It’s a totally half-assed answer that basically is saying, “Don’t ask me a follow-up because I don’t really want to discuss it.”

Here’s some actionable advice, courtesy of Northwestern:

Instead of simply stating your profession — “I’m an accountant” — add a short tag line or pitch. When Wortmann launched his most recent company, his movie trailer became, “I run a firm called Sales Engine. We help companies build and tune their sales engine.” In two sentences, he was able to give the name of the company, his position, and the purpose of the business.

Some call this “the movie trailer” approach to networking ideas.

But what if you’re an introvert?

No worries. You’re probably better at networking as an introvert, because you (a) probably listen better and (b) have more “soft skills” than extroverts, and people want to exit networking events thinking they were listened to. Plus: if you don’t want to slide up to people, you can volunteer to do the check-in table and get cleaner intros that way. This is all part of an interesting tapestry where introversion is becoming more relevant to work.

Networking ideas and Dunbar’s Number

If you want to get into some science and data around networking ideas, think on Dunbar’s Numberand what that means. Hint: it means you should reach out to one person in your network per day, especially if you’re traveling for business and can create a “mixed bag of professionals” happy hour in your honor. Everyone there will make new connections, and you were the hub. Nice, right?

What about the first impression?

Everyone tells you this is so, so important. Right? It must be. Confirmation bias. Once someone is locked into a view of you, you gotta move mountains to change it.

Actually, though, one of the most connected men at Davos every year — billionaires on cell speed dial, baby! — believes you should stop caring about first impressions.

Give/take, or 80/20

Stop talking about yourself all the time. Even if you’re a hell of a hot lead for the person you’re talking to, they don’t really care. Everyone wants to feel like they’re being heard, listened to, connected with. You provide that for someone else by listening, not by talking. 80 percent of the time, ideally, you should be listening. It’s all about give and take.

Understand the need for psycho-social support

As you build out a professional network, you’re going to have certain “rabbis” on the career arc side. These are people in your company or your industry who can directly advance you into new, higher-paying roles. There are only a couple of those guys out there, so search wisely and work hard at getting to know them.

But your looser network needs to have psycho-social support too, which means people you can go to about idiot bosses, drama, politics, firings, and the like.

Point being: don’t just seek out the people who can directly advance you. You need a wider web than that for the tough times.

Related: weak ties are often more important to your career than strong ties, for exactly this reason. Weak ties can get you through some of the toughest moments.

Work the hand-off

People miss this all the time.

“The hand-off” means you met someone at an event, and they offered to introduce you to someone else over email or some such.

If the hand-off is sloppy — short email, sent from iPhone, doesn’t really explain who you are, no context — the second person (who you want as a connect) will instantly not care and go back to whatever else is making him busy.

It’s all about working and managing that hand-off, even offering to send a quick sample intro to the person you met. They will edit it, of course — gotta feel relevant and like you contributed — but at least it will have proper context for who you are.

When the hand-off goes poorly, networking tanks.

As such, try your best to work/control the hand-off of your context and information.

What else would you add on networking ideas?

We supposedly live these days in a very relationship-driven economy (we always have), and often find ourselves in formal/informal networking contexts throughout the week. How do you approach these and not get burned out on your “personal movie trailer?” What are your networking ideas?

Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money:

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