Although it’s touted as a crucial skill in business, the idea of networking still makes some professionals tremble – and for many, it’s not easy to even know where to start. But it’s time to build networking into your everyday, not just in hotel lounges on a business trip, because connecting with other people in your field is one of the quickest ways to climb that ladder.
And that’s all it is – connecting. You don’t always have to press a business card into someone’s hand; starting a conversation at a cafe or on a train can be just as effective. The old adage rings true: What you know matters, but so does who you know. Having a familiar face in the company you’ve got your eye on or a mentor to advise could make all the difference when it comes to your next big move. Here are some spots you may never have considered for meaningful connections:
On Your Flight
A funny thing happens when two people are scrunched together on a plane. Mere centimeters from each other, you’re in a fairly nerve-wracking position where the person next to you is well within your personal space. If your seatmate is talkative, you could find yourself exchanging anecdotes while receiving info on just about anything. If you hit it off, you could have their contact info in your hands by the time you land.
The Salon or a Spa
Women are excellent conversationalists, and the salon is a mecca of chatter that can range from the mundane happenings at home to the trials of fighting a serious illness. Women support each other and enjoy trading suggestions and secrets on how to conquer the world; the salon or spa provides the perfect caveat for finding things in common with others. You may find that the woman beside you is a fountain of knowledge about your field, or her company is hiring. Be friendly, not intrusive, and you could walk away with a new colleague or mentor.
Business Speed Dating
You may not be looking for romance, but the business version of speed dating gives you an opportunity to put your name and business card out there and get to know like-minded professionals. The idea behind these events is not solely to find new clients or get yourself a job, but to practice the art of professional conversation and establish interesting and important friendships.
Great connections can happen when people come together for a common cause, for example at charity events or when volunteering. You don’t want to push your agenda outright, but you’ll have conversations with people from all walks of life, so this is where you add diversity to your rolodex. If you’re thinking of switching fields, see if you can find events where professionals in that area congregate – given the new wave of “corporate social responsibility” there’s bound to be a fundraiser, charity run, or dinner happening, and when the goal is to raise awareness or money, there’s very little chance you’ll be turned away.
Art Shows, Poetry Readings, and Year End Galas
Each of these locations are places where there is a lot of conversation, and networking at these places is done fairly naturally thanks to common taste in art, literature, or music. You can offer up your contact info or get the info of others at the end of the evening, or arrange to meet again the next time the band plays/author speaks etc. Make the common interest the focus of conversation, rather than your business prospects, and your new acquaintances will look forward to connecting again.
Networking is about making people remember you, rather than gathering up as many names, phone numbers, and email addresses as you can in each place you go to. It may feel unnatural at first, but you will find that the words come out effortlessly when you have the correct groundwork laid. Find common ground, get together with people for reasons other than work, and soon you’ll have a web of people around you who you can refer to others, ask for assistance, or continue socializing with outside of your professional life.