It’s OK, you can be honest with us: you really hate the word “networking.” Whether you’re just beginning your career as a freelancer, or have many years being a part of a close-knit corporate team, “networking” events seem a universal constant in most industries — and odds are, you’re starting to get pretty tired of them. Does the very phrase was make you scrunch up your face and make jokes about breaking out in hives? You have our complete sympathies.
We used to hate the word “networking” too, but eventually we realized that the reason we were so determined to avoid term, and the events, were that it seemed somehow false and inauthentic. If you’ve pictured a bunch of stiff people awkwardly exchanging business cards and chatting strategically about themselves, not interested in making genuine connections but only what they could get out of the people around them for self-serving professional purposes, you know what we’re talking about.
Then, we learned that what we thought of networking was actually bad networking. When we started paying closer attention at events, we learned that networking is actually all about building authentic, mutually beneficial relationships. Building a professional network is about give and take, friendships and generosity, as much as any other kinds of relationships.
With this definition of networking in mind — making real connections with other people with whom you have a great deal in common — these 18 tips for navigating networking events are a great place to start. Even if attending such an event still makes you nervous, these talking points will quickly help you break the ice and get to know your colleagues. Whether you’re more comfortable starting a conversation by bringing up sports, giving a real compliment, or bonding over being a pair of wallflowers together, you’ll find that being a networking success, and just being open to meeting new people and making new friends, are exactly the same thing.