F@*k ‘Networking’. Just Be a Human.
Last week, we talked about humanizing the subject line, but what about being human when it matters most? In person.
Stop me when this sounds familiar. It’s early morning. There are stale bagels, cheap coffee, and a mix of knock-off stilettos. There’s a table with name tags, fat sharpies, and people bumbling about who looks a hair too much like Dwight Schrute. Everyone is shaking hands, saying their nice-to-meet-you’s, and being totally and utterly forgettable.
Congratulations! You have just entered the land of networking hell—the most overrated and ineffective pastime in professional growth.
What to do?
Screw the schmoozing and opt for a totally revolutionary route: just be human.
How so? Here’s your networking palette cleanser in 3 easy steps.
1. Don’t be one of those people
You know who I’m talking about. The people who “work the room”. The people who hand out business cards like they are condoms in a high school sex ed. class, surprised to find their cards suffer the same regrettable fate. Hello, trash bin! Disclaimer - keep those condoms, kids!
Newsflash: People don’t want a poorly designed piece of cardstock with your name on it. They want what we all want. What you want. They want to have a conversation and not a sales pitch. They want meaningful relationships. They want to build connections that matter.
Personally, I don’t bring any cards to events. Instead I meet people. I talk to them. I mean I really talk to them beyond the, “Hi. What do you do? Well, great to meet you. Here’s a card.”
We have a meaningful moment and then I follow up later with a meaningful email. Something specific and thoughtful rather than something stock. Because, you know, they’re a person. And people respond to kindness.
2. Stop counting
Somewhere along the way, we became a numbers society. How many Facebook friends do you have? How many followers? Subscribers? We began to associate quantity with value, assuming the more the merrier. But like the girl who wears a padded bra, there’s some serious misleading going on there. Don’t believe me? Take a cue from YouTube. This isn’t a numbers game.
For the majority of its existence, YouTube judged the success of a video by the number of views it had. This seemed logical enough. But when the 30-minute film “Kony 2012” came out, annihilating all prior viewership records, the execs at the social media haven realized they’d been doing it wrong. A million people could click on a video, watch 2 seconds, and move on. Those views were useless. The more valuable barometer was how long people actually watched. So in late 2012, YouTube added “watch time” to their analytics, rewarding videos that kept viewers engaged.
The same philosophy goes for networking. If you’re going for true engagement, it’s not about how many people you hand your card to; it’s about how many people you truly interact with. One good conversation is better than five quick ones every day of the week.
3. Set technology aside
Pretty much everything these days can be taken care of with the press of a fancy button. We’ve been overwhelmed by the brilliance and ease of convenience apps. We’ve been geared up to full steam with awesome productivity ones, too. And while those are all well and good, there is simply no replacement for the human element, for you looking me in the eye and really hearing me out.
This is especially important for those of us that work in tech. We’re all extremely attached to our phones. We can’t just sit on the bus anymore. People are faking calls to make themselves look busy and important when they’re waiting for their friends to show up. We go out for dinner with people and we’re more interested in email and text messages. While it’s important to be connected, it’s even more important to be present when you’re interacting with others.
Networking is for losers. It’s for people who will never be more than middlemen. If you want to grow your career, you have to invest in it. And the best way you can do that is by investing in other people. So set your cards aside and say hello. It’s amazing what happens when you remember to be human.
I'm looking at you! Do you agree? Disagree? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
Photo Credit Alejandro Escamilla