I know a lot of people who lament the fact that theyíre "not good at networking." Yet these are the same people I turn to when I need help, or need to get in touch with someone who knows something I donít.
And they ARE well-connected people. So why do they think theyíre bad at networking?
I think the problem is how we define "networking" these days. It has become synonymous with "networking events" staged specifically to make new "connections."
Most of us donít like these events, but we go to them because theyíre supposed to be good for us.
A big reason that I donít like them is that I learn very little about the people I meet there. I canít consider a person part of my "network" just because we exchanged cards. I struggle to politely decline referral requests that are based on those brief encounters.
I used to feel I was remiss by not devoting more energy specifically to expanding my network. Now, Iím comfortable with the fact that my network is fairly small, and likely to stay that way.
It works because it consists primarily of people whom I know well enough to recommend (not just introduce) to someone else. Mainly people with whom Iíve worked before, closely enough to know their strengths. Or at least to know whether they built a positive reputation among their own teammates.
When I do go to networking events, itís primarily to keep in touch with these former co-workers, whom I seldom see now that weíre all working at different companies. Itís a great way to remind ourselves of why we connected in the first place, catch up on whatís new, and refresh ourselves on why we should recommend each other to our other friends.
And sometimes weíll even introduce each other to our new colleagues. Which is a much nicer way to expand oneís network than approaching strangers at a buffet.
Now, if you still feel the need to "grow your network" by attend a networking event, consider these common-sense tips on "how to work a room" from self-promotion maven Ilise Benun.
But I suggest you break her rule about never sitting with someone you know. That can be the best part of networking.
Lisa Schaertl is president of Tech Savvy Marketing of Rochester, NY specializing in marketing and PR for high tech companies.