How does Networking Work?

Many of you might have joined Toastmasters for networking. If you haven't, read the first section below.

Why You Absolutely NEED to Go Beyond Your Club

Most of my learning in Toastmasters has been outside my club. Back around January 2017, I had finished my first speech module in the traditional education program and I was bored. I didn't see what else I could learn, and I slowed down significantly. In May 2017, my mentor asked me to come with him to the district conference, and there I was literally taken aback by the quality of speakers. I learned that day just how much I still had to learn.

Beyond just learning, think about scale. Your club has 10-50 members at most. After a while, you'll easily become familiar with everybody. But when you go beyond your club, you will meet so many more people, with a higher chance of seeing people that you get along with and a higher chance of meeting more competent, more driven people.

Allow yourself exposure. Go to district, division, and area events. Go perform at other clubs. Meet many new people - you will only benefit from it.

A 5-step Method to Networking

Here's a breakdown of my approach to networking.

  1. Approach to Networking and First Impressions

  2. Making Small Talk

  3. Making a Meaningful Connection

  4. Leveraging your Connections and Giving Help

  5. Maintaining Relationships Long Term

1. Approach to Networking and First Impressions

First, a better name. Networking sounds very corporate – what you’re actually doing is making friends. That’s it.

There's an important distinction. When you think networking, you think “corporate”, “give-and-take”, “fake”. When you make friends, you think of “enjoyment”, “support” and “trust”. These are the core elements of a good network.

You must shift your mindset from “networking” to “making friends”. When you attend events, set your mind to having fun. You’re there to have a good time, and when you approach the event that way, it'll show. That's the first impression that attracts people to you.

A great first impression CAN be faked. You can dress perfectly, act cordial, be careful about your walk, don’t say anything risqué. It is MUCH easier to create fun by being enthusiastic.

Enthusiasm is an intangible that not many people notice, but everybody feels. You've heard of vibes, right? Your “vibe” is what makes people want to talk to you, and all it requires is 1 small shift in mindset.

Next time you attend an event, don't stick to the people you know. Pull in a stranger into an ongoing conversation. Be fun.

2. Making Small Talk

Why do we engage in small talk? Small talk is not small at all. It's an important evaluation - both you and your partner are seeing if you're worth talking to each other. We are uncomfortable with silence in social situations, so we fill it, but at the same time, we are not sure whether we can trust the person we're talking to. Hence, we play this game of poking and prodding.

Active Listening: Learn to Shut Up

A key mistake we make as people is talking way too much. This is especially true if we're trying to network™. We think we have to fill in the gaps and be loud to be interesting.

You can also be interesting by listening.

Listening is a very rare skill. We are almost always thinking, "Where can I jump in? Can I talk about me?"

After sharing a personal story, follow up with an open-ended question, such as "Have you ever experienced anything like that?", or "Why do you think that happened?" Then, pay attention.

Let them know that you are really listening by expressing your interest on your face (good eye contact) and body (turn towards them and move your hands away from your chest).

And that really is the crux of networking - bringing some sort of value to someone so that you decide to be friends, even if that value is just listening to them because no one else does.

3. Making a Meaningful Connection

Here’s a sticking point – it’s very, very rare and difficult to create a meaningful connection in 1 meeting. It’s just not practically possible. You have to meet people again and again, and impress again and again, at least 3 times.

So if you’ve found someone you like talking to, and you’d like to have them in your life, take control of the opportunity to see them again. At the end of the night of the first meeting, ask them, “so when are we seeing each other next?

If you’re part of a community, like Toastmasters, bring up the next event on the calendar, and ask to see them there. “Come to the event. It'll be fun with you around.

Another thing to do is to integrate early i.e. introduce them to a friend of yours at the event, and if they introduce a friend of theirs, treat their friend with just as much importance. The more natural it feels for both of you to be in a group, the faster you will establish a meaningful, deep connection.

4. Leveraging your Connections and Giving Help

Using your connections to get help is not a bad thing - it is literally how the world works. However, if you think you are going to "use" people, you're mistaken. The mindset shift needed for leveraging relationships is accepting that your friend is doing you a favor. In turn, you must do your friend a favor when they need it.

When should you say yes to a friend's request? Most of the time. Prioritize their need, even if it is inconvenient. Anybody can say no, but if you are able to say yes, you will find a world open up to you. Put simply, when you help your friends, your friends will help you.

When should you say no to a friend's request? If their request can get you in trouble with your career or have non-trivial impact on your health and schedule, it's okay to say no. However, even there, help your friend by connecting them to someone else who might help.

The more you connect and help people, the more people will appreciate you and help you when you need it.

If you do ever need help, remember that all you can do is ask. Don't expect people to help you - you might be disappointed, but always ask if you need it. Someone might just surprise you.

5. Maintaining Relationships Long Term

'Absence makes the heart grow fonder' is no longer a relevant lesson today. To maintain relationships, you should see each other and catch up at least once every few months. The more intimate the relationship, the more you need to see each other to maintain it.

This is HARD. It's something I still struggle with.

One strategy that can work is having a common activity to discuss or a long-term project you're working on together. In fact, that's the entire premise behind how relationships are started in the Playstation game Persona 5 (one of my favorites) - you as the protagonist get pulled into an agreement with someone, which manifests as a relationship or a "social contract".

Even if you don't have something you're working on together, it makes a world of difference to remember what your friend has been doing in their own lives. People appreciate those that make them feel important, and remembering details about someone's life is the best way to show them that you genuinely care. (This is where I struggle.)

It's an inexact science to maintain friendships. I'd even call it an inexact art. But the bottom line is this: give people a reason to keep you around. Be friendly, be fun, be reliable, and be considerate. It'll make a huge difference to how you approach people and how you form your own network of friends, partners, and acquaintances.

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