What's Your Story About Networking?

Most of us have a story around networking, a story that holds us back from making the most of our opportunities.

Our story keeps us from engaging others in conversation even when we’re surrounded by them at events that are explicitly designed for networking. It inspires us to bring friends to events so that we have a safety net to fall back on. And it keeps us from going to these events in the first place.

Rachael Vegas was a fantastic interview at the event.

During our presentation, I had the opportunity to interview Rachael Vegas, VPMM of Target.

Dean and I spoke at an event earlier this week — one of the single most ideal networking events we had ever been part of, hosted by the Network of Executive Women (NEW), Twin Cities Region. There were 500 people from the Consumer Products field all in one room together. As I gathered over the course of the evening, this field is massively intertwined. Meaning, if anyone in that room chatted with just about anyone else in the room, they would likely find a connection, a source of synergy, a reason to work with each other in some way, or at least a reason to have a relationship.

You might think these folks would have nothing holding them back from networking effectively every time they get together.

And yet, the whole reason we were there was because their membership had requested some help in knowing how to network better. So clearly, members had a story that networking wasn’t as easy for them as their circumstances might imply.

The group had given us a list of questions around networking that they all had, and our presentation focused entirely on sharing our answers to those questions.

In addition to this main presentation, I had the opportunity to do a mini-presentation with a NEW Committee member named Julie Melbye, who is absolutely passionate about networking. Julie has some fantastic ideas around the activity, which allowed me to process the topic in refreshingly new directions.

The whole event was a huge success, and we covered a lot of ground in a short amount of time, which allowed us to fundamentally change the story that these folks have in their head about networking.

The NEW event committee wanted to make sure the presentation would speak the language of the attendees, so they invited Rachael Vegas, a celebrated VP of Target, known for her success grounded in her ability to network. The opportunity to hear Rachael talk about networking was enough to get a record number of people to move past their story that keeps from coming to such events, and get them into the room.

Once there, we were able to do some major story rewrites in the heads of attendees.

The first question we dealt with had to do with why they should network. Everybody knows that they should network, and they have vague and general ideas that networking brings good things to them. And we confirmed this — that they should network to pursue their professional goals.

So this means that it’s useful to always have goals in mind.

Unfortunately, it’s easy for us focusing on these goals to get in the way of networking. Because when people engage people in conversation, they might turn others off by just talking about themselves and what they’re after. Or they might hold themselves back because they don’t want to come across as being all about themselves. Or because they don’t want to ask for help. Or because they don’t want to paint themselves as someone who needs help.

So we need to think of networking as a means to an end. We network to pursue our goals, certainly. But the activity of networking is building relationships. No matter what our goals are, it’s going to take relationships with other people to get there. Some more directly than others.

And some more immediately than others. One question we wrangled had to do with who not to network with — the idea being that there are only so many hours in the day. This, of course, is true, but Rachael made the excellent point that you don’t know the future path of people you network with now, so her recommendation was not to cross anyone off your list.

We agree with this, not only for Rachael’s excellent reason, but also because no matter who you’re talking to, they themselves might not be able to directly help you, but they might know someone who can help you. Or they might meet someone soon who can help you. So if you’re talking to them, why not create a relationship with them to retain that possibility?

And the way to build relationships is simple. All you have to do is engage the other people in conversation with an interest in them, and with an interest in helping them. No matter what the topic, if you learn about them, learn about what they care about, what their challenges are and what their goals are, they’re going to want to talk with you. They’re going to like you, and they’re going to be happy to be in your network.

It was at this point in the room that I could sense a palpable sense of relief. Dean and I were laying out a handful of simple, basic ideas that folks felt they could take on and practice, and Rachael was confirming them: The best way to pursue your professional goals is to build relationships with people in the community you’re targeting, and to do so by being there to help, and by providing value whenever and wherever you can. If you make this enough of a practice in your life, you brand yourself as a source of value. People just naturally come to you for help, and they just naturally want to return the favor, because they now have a relationship with you.

 

What do you think of all this? What is your story about networking? For a first-hand experience of shifting your story, join us next week at BE CONNECTED To Effective Networking. We’d love to have you there as our guest!

4 Comments

  1. Cheryl Moore Brinkley on May 16, 2013 at 4:04 pm

    Thanks for sharing this success, Pete. The quick version I tell my clients and remind myself regularly:
    Be more interested than interesting.
    It takes the pressure off and focuses on the OTHER person… which you well know.
    –Cheryl

  2. Pete Machalek on May 16, 2013 at 4:10 pm

    That’s excellent, Cheryl! That mirrors a line that Dean threw out at the event: “InteresTED is interesTING.” Meaning, that you are interesting to someone when you are interested in them.

  3. Curtis Rons on May 17, 2013 at 7:58 am

    Pete: this is a great article and a must read for everyone. Many people don’t understand the reason for networking or how to network and you can tell by their “whats in it for me” attitude or their wandering eyes as you try to connect with them. I just read “The Social Media Sales Revolution” by Landy Chase and one of his major points is that whether it is on social media or in networking, being a value generator is a key because helping others first is a cornerstone of building that relationship and trust.

    • Pete Machalek on May 17, 2013 at 10:35 am

      Great points, Curtis! I’ve definitely experienced the apparent “what’s in it for me” attitude of networkers, as well as wandering eyes. I’ve come to the conclusion that both of these are symptoms not of an attitudinal problem, but of a confusion or uncertainty about what they should best be doing inside of the challenge of networking. Once folks are convinced of the idea that networking is all about building relationships, they understand that the job is about being authentic, caring, listening, and leading a conversation to help the people they’re talking to.

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