I am good at networking. It was one of the attributes that helped me to become a community representative on my local government’s Arts and Cultural Reference Group and to be effective in the role.
Networking comes naturally to me. It is akin to placing pieces in a community puzzle. I love it when I can introduce two or more components to each other so they may work together to form a common picture. It is even more exciting when I am inspired to combine disparate pieces that then form a perfect match in some innovative manner.
Before I speak of what networking is, I shall tell you what it is not.
After watching me at a launch event of the Melbourne Writers’ Festival several years ago, I heard a fellow writer comment that, “Jenni is so good at schmoozing”. I was confused and later, I looked up the term.
The English definition of Schmooze: “the verb to talk informally with someone, especially in a way that is not sincere or to win some advantage for yourself.”
This reflects a common misconception about talking to others at industry gatherings, whatever your industry may be. Schmoozing is all about ‘self’ – and it is not networking! I was dismayed to think that was what they thought I did.
It also helped me to understand why they had watched my conversations across the room with such awe and with the belief that they could not do what they mistakenly thought I was doing.
To approach a stranger with the intention of self-benefit would require a lot of courage and there would be self-imposed pressure to make a good impression. It involves the same concerns many experience when confronted with a public speaking gig.
Neither networking nor public speaking is about you! This is good news. As your focus will be on ensuring good communication, it will not be on you, thus the pressure to make a good impression should be relieved.
It is more than good manners to show an interest in the other person and to listen to what they have to say. More than niceness to let them know you relate to something they have shared or to tell them how much you enjoyed or value whatever it is you have enjoyed or value.
Networking is all about hearing something someone says and relating it to some other element, person, resource or opportunity from your own experience that you feel they may benefit from connecting with or knowing about. It is about them! The focus is on them and their needs.
How can you help them, not how can they help you!
(And since I mentioned public speaking, I’ll let you know that is also about your audience rather than you. Your job is to communicate what they came to hear, learn or experience, so your focus should be on communicating well and delivering your best performance.)
And possibly not surprisingly, sometimes (maybe many times) others will have the same outlook and consideration of their fellow beings, and will offer resources and possibilities from their own experience to you.