Ok – so this is how I thought about networking most of my career: “Yuk! Guess I better go… wonder how quickly I’m going to be able to escape out of the door!”
Seriously – I hated it. The forced nature of everything. Meeting people who pressed you for meetings (or worse, work) incessantly. Engaging in awkward getting-to-know-you games after a dull speaker. The fakeness of it all.
But then I discovered I didn’t actually have to hate it. I realised it wasn’t networking I hated – because networking is, at its essence, just meeting people and getting to know them – it was that the events that I was attending were all wrong for me.
Just over 2 years ago I moved to Melbourne Australia from New Zealand. For anyone that has emigrated there is definitely a shift, no matter your industry: job titles don’t exactly translate, organisations you’ve worked with aren’t well known, the ‘nature of work’ can be different. Despite NZ and Australia having many similarities, I was definitely on the back foot when entering the Melbourne job market.
I thought I should just suck it up and get networking, I (luckily) found a role, but all of a sudden my wide network of connections in NZ didn’t count for much. I didn’t have many contacts in Australia who I could drop an email, asking how they were dealing with this law change, or that industry issue. I attending some great events, but I attended many more terrible ones.
I discovered that I have preferences when it comes to industry events and networking just like everyone, the key for me was figuring out what I wanted and who could provide me with that.
Some of my learnings have been:
- I don’t need one event to do it all
I love having the opportunity to hear someone speak I would never get the opportunity to otherwise, Commissioners, Head Economists, Politicians. A good breakfast event (because, coincidently, I also love food) with a great speaker is tops! What I don’t like is for an event to shoe-horn in a speaker with games and awkward conversation.
- I like having unstructured talking time.
I’m actually ok at striking up a conversation here and there. Often the best contacts I’ve made through various forums has been engaging in a great conversation and continuing it over dinner or drinks after the event has finished. If I’m not tied to a table or group I’ll mingle until I find interesting people who I can learn from.
- I don’t like feeling like I’m being lined up as a client.
The big divider between events where I feel engaged and those where I don’t is the authenticity of the conversation. You know what – if your company stumped up a lump of cash to make this event happen then that’s awesome! Good on you for investing in relationships. But I don’t want to sit through an hour of your MD telling us about how great their product is if they’re doing an ‘introduction’ for the speaker that got me in the door who then only speaks for 15 minutes.
Likewise if you’re a consultant that is fantastic, I get that you need clients to make your business work. But I’m not going to become a client by you pressing me into a meeting. I’d like to actually connect with you as a person, and in exchange I won’t pretend like I might have some work if really I know there is no chance.
Recently I was flirting with the idea of reconnecting with a great group of people who I coincidently met at one of the great networking groups I joined when I first moved to Melbourne. I had a chat about it with a friend and thought ; well if I like the super unstructured drinks & a loose theme kind of networking event then maybe others would too’?
As a result of this, and subsequent conversations, with the original group I’ve set up a ‘People People Catch Up’ – for people whose business is people – People & Culture, L&D, OD, Projects, Change and everything in between. If this sounds like you and you’re based in Melbourne (or just happen to be here on August 13th 2015) I’d love to see you there!