Make it personal

Barbara Koenen-Geerdink

Networking is often found to be a scary thing. You step into a room full of people you don’t know, and I personally can’t think of anyone who truly enjoys these situations. Most people feel uncomfortable not knowing anyone and being exposed to a large (or even small) group of people. You would have to awkwardly introduce yourself and tell them what you do. You would then try to drink something or eat (even worse) and at the time you put your glass to your mouth or you had just stuck a piece of food in your face, people approach you to introduce themselves to you. Even more awkward. With your mouth full of food or drink you will have to excuse yourself for taking in some much-needed energy before you can shake hands with this stranger. Once you have done that you will probably speak about the company you work for and the work you do. You may discuss the weather and then very soon excuse yourself to go to the bathroom whereas you’d just feel too uncomfortable to continue the conversation and you just want to leave and have another bite to eat or have another drink. Fair enough. Networking seems exhausting especially after a long and intense day at work, you’d really have to reenergise yourself to get into the networking mode and be friendly to people you don’t know. 

I won’t give you networking tips in this blog post but the point I do want to make is that we have to keep in mind that we are introducing ourselves to people, we are in a room full of people and we are speaking to people. Not all people but most people have some empathy and will be able to have a meaningful conversation with you. And even if it is superficial and not meaningful, still people can be very nice and will listen.
It is OK to share with them that you had to rush from work to the event and that you’d rather watch Netflix on the sofa but that you thought you’d learn something from the event so did make an effort to show up. You can be honest about the fact that you find it rather awkward and random to introduce yourself to people you don’t know.

Think about it in this way, especially if you are so uncomfortable, you actually found yourself a topic for a conversation and you are genuine: win-win!
If you ask yourself the question if you would rather speak to someone who is over the top and trying to be someone they are not or if you would rather listen to someone who would openly share with you that they had a bad day, which one would you chose? I surely would go for the latter although I don’t generally like people who complain, at least they are honest and genuine.

Another thing you have to keep in mind is that these people have families, they have a mother and father, brother or sister. They may be a mother or father themselves and like to spend time with their kids or they may like playing golf, horseback riding, rugby, etc. You will find something that you have in common. Perhaps it is a book that you like or a series you have just watched. Speak about it and make it a challenge for yourself to find out for everyone you ever speak to what you have in common. You will see that the commonalities could form a good basis for staying in touch or at least to find out more about who this person is.

I had various discussions about the use of social media for law firms. What would be the added value of seeing firm’s posts on platforms like Instagram and Facebook. I would always challenge that and ask why it is ought to be OK for consumer brands to be front and center on these platforms but not for corporate brands? At the end of the day, we are all people, human beings, with our own personal preferences and taste and as said before we may find things that resonate with us, that attracts us. On a personal level you would use these accounts and your clients and targets are people too you know, with their own personal life and their preferences. They always have the choice if they want to see something that is more personal rather than business focused.

Keeping in mind professionalism, which should always be on top of the list in your career if you’d ask me, I do believe that making things more personal like conversations with clients, communications with clients and other interactions like networking, can be much more beneficial because you create an emotional bond which is, in my views, much stronger than a highly distant relationship hardly knowing anything about the person you work with or – as with networking events – want to speak to. 
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