Stop Being Awkward at Networking
Networking is crucial to our careers – especially if we’re in a creative industry – yet, it can be so incredibly uncomfortable. We teamed up with the Hoxton Hotel on September 22nd to host a roundtable to decipher why networking can feel sleazy and how we can do it better.
Creative Morning Chief Happiness Officer Sally Rumble, Jeremy Schwartz of Squarespace, and illustrator Ricardo “It’s a Living” Gonzalez each brought a unique perspective. Ladies Get Paid Founder Claire Wasserman moderated.
Here’s a snippet of the conversation.
WHY IS NETWORKING SO IMPORTANT, ESPECIALLY FOR THOSE IN CREATIVE CAREERS?
Jeremy: As a freelancer, it’s hard to accrue real assets you own. So It’s the relationships that you own. It’s an investment of time, emotional energy and though not exactly tangible, it’s real.
IF NETWORKING IS CRUCIAL TO OUR CAREERS, WHY IS THAT WORD SO GROSS?
Sally: I’m allergic to the word. It just doesn’t feel like there’s a lot of humanity in the word, networking. Connection, belonging: this is where we should focus.
Claire: There needs to be a mindset shift when we think of networking. Instead of looking at it like “what can I get?”, think of networking as connecting. Instead, when you meet people, ask them how you can help. This part is is crucial: connect them to others. Wharton Professor Adam Grant calls this the Five Minute Favor. It shows goodwill, supports others with minimal commitment from you, and immediately expands your network because guess what? They’ll probably connect you to someone else too.
IN NEW YORK ESPECIALLY, WE OFTEN LEAD WITH “WHAT DO YOU DO FOR A LIVING?” WHICH SEEMS GENERIC. WHAT ELSE CAN WE ASK?
Sally: We learned from Simon Sinek about opening lines and he replaces the word “What do you do?” with “Why you do what you do?” You also want to measure your audience.
Ricardo: You could talk about side projects you’re working on instead of your work.
Jeremy: I ask, “How do you spend your days?” so it doesn’t necessarily turn into a conversation about what they do for a living. It could be more about your side project. I’ll also start with “What brings you here?”; listen closely, and be sincerely invested in what they say.
WHAT IS AN OPENING LINE THAT DOESN’T FEEL CHEESY?
Jeremy: When talking to women, I tend to find something they’re wearing and compliment them but in the most authentic or at least detail oriented way possible.
CONNECTING OTHER PEOPLE: IS THERE AN ETIQUETTE TO THIS?
Sally: Absolutely. Before connecting two people, I suggest making sure both parties are okay with it. This is called a double-opt in. Assuming they say yes, when you make the introduction, be clear about why you’re connecting them so they have a starting off point for the conversation.
THOSE OF US WHO BUILD COMMUNITIES HAVE A UNIQUE BIRD’S EYE PERSPECTIVE. HOW DO WE CREATE ENVIRONMENTS THAT GET PEOPLE OUT OF THEIR SHELL?
Sally: I have a number of icebreakers to test out with audiences. One thing we use is turning the generic name tag into something more meaningful. A question on the name tag that becomes a point of interest. An energetic staff of volunteers is crucial since they present a positive, happy energy first thing in the morning. It’s contagious! You get what you give.
WE MEET SO MANY PEOPLE. I FEEL LIKE SUCCESS IS ALWAYS IN THE FOLLOW UP. HOW CAN WE KEEP TRACK?
Jeremy: I use CRM for his business cards. It’s a sales software but it’s still tracking relationships and can note what we talked about. “If you don’t write it down, it didn’t happen.”
Ricardo: Find them on social media media and send them a note. People are really generous.
IN A NUTSHELL: HOW CAN WE BE LESS AWKWARD AT NETWORKING?
Jeremy: I find networking to be challenging so I’ve come up with a few mental tricks and habits to make it more authentic. When you go to something like Creative Morning that is explicitly meant to be a networking event. It’s not a bar or social event. So remember that people want to meet you and act accordingly.
Claire: Have a glass of wine, bring mouth freshener, and smile.
What’s your networking IQ?
Here are networking scenarios we debated at the breakfast; grab some friends and test your social savviness. Can make an excellent drinking game.
- You don’t remember someone’s name. What do you do?
- You go to an event alone. How do you strike up a conversation?
- How do you get away from someone at an event?
- They don’t have a business card. What do you do?
- Their business cards have a terrible logo and flimsy paper stock. Do you judge?
- Here’s booze. How much do you drink?
- You don’t drink. What do you do?
- You brought drugs. Should you share?
- You want to scan the room but don’t want to appear rude.
- You’re attracted to their friend. Or them. What do you do?
Bonus: What’s the one thing that everyone should bring to a networking event? (Answer: mouth freshener.)