The Force Multiplier of Networking

In the post-pandemic world, how to make the most of networking opportunities?

Sorry folks for skipping out last week on the newsletter, but I was in Italy. Wait what? How did I end up in Italy you ask?

While I could say it was to go tour the world of pizza and pasta, it was actually work related. This is how it went down with less than a week of planning. My UK colleague was going to be in Italy for personal reasons and another colleague was going to be in Spain for a quick vacation. They synched up and decided to meet. I got the Slack message later that day that basically said “Join us next week in northern Italy.”

A dilemma hit me. It is still quite unsafe with COVID still kicking around. I have not left for an international trip since Singapore last March 2020. I would be leaving my family behind for a week. Could I even pull together all the arrangements and requirements needed to fly over?

LOL, of course I could! Booked direct on United to Milan (for less than $800 as well). Checked train schedules. Locked in the hotel. Downloaded the Italian language pack of Google Translate. Then got my COVID test scheduled. Fast forward a few days, and I find myself in the historic town of Brescia!

Why go to all this trouble though? Because of the power of connection and networking. Sure, I have talked with my colleagues plenty of times over the past year I have been at AWS. We have a great rapport and have grown in our trust for each other. As I mentioned in a previous post on meeting in real life, I shared this thought:

“There is also a spark that comes with those real life interactions.”

There is a deeper connection. We all felt this in a year where we did not get to meet clients, prospects, colleagues, friends, and loved ones. Going out to Italy to be together as a team was that chance to have that deeper connection.

It also got me thinking about networking in general. All the missing nuance, signals, and warmth that we get from the physicality of being in the same space is what is driving the fast resurgence of gatherings and meetups again. Even though we are not out of the weeds with the pandemic, the pent up desire to network again will explode.

Networking is a professional force multiplier. We all know this innately, but often put it on the backburner pre-pandemic. However there is simply no other activity you can do that can have as great of an impact on your life and professional aspirations.

The reason many people dismiss networking is that they do not do it well. It can be awkward for those that tend to be more introverted or feel self-important. Anyone can tap in the power of networking though. Networking is like potential energy, it's only activated when put into action. To put it into action though, you have to treat it as a skill to be honed and improved.

So how do you harness the power of networking? Here are seven ideas to help you be more effective in your networking. Also note that while these ideas are oriented for in-person networking, they can also be applied to online networking as well.

  • Have A Goal – When you do not have a goal, you spend time going to low-value events, speaking to the wrong people, and wasting a lot of time. Ask yourself what you are looking to accomplish. Are you raising funds for your startup? Are you hiring salespeople? Do you need to build credibility in your community? Are you looking to educate yourself? Whatever your goal, make sure you align your networking time with those goals and cut out events and activities that are outside of your objective. Once you find those core events, add them to your schedule so that you can plan for them and not cancel at the last minute because you are “too busy”.

  • Bring Your Passion – The corollary to this point could be “don’t be boring”. Networking can be painful, especially for people that are not naturally extroverted. The best way to counteract that fear is to come prepared to talk about what you are passionate about. The key here is not to talk a lot about the “what” and the “how”, but to authentically share the “why” behind what gets you excited. People do not want to hear facts, we are geared to listen to honest stories. So create the story of your personal “why” and craft some stories of your own that you can share.

  • Listen With Heart – Dale Carnegie once said “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” At your next networking event, ask yourself whether you are really listening to the other person or if you are scanning the room for someone else to talk to. We will all have those conversations where we believe there is nothing to be gained. However, I have often found that the people I have initially dismissed became some of my most valuable relationships. Therefore, have an open mind and an open heart to truly listen to the people you engage with.

  • Ask More Questions – Are you the type that likes to talk? Then you probably are dominating the conversation. You need to share the time with others, which goes hand in hand with the last point about being interesting. But how do you get a conversation going? You come armed to ask open-ended questions! What questions? The easiest way to start is to ask “What are you passionate about lately”. From there, ask questions that align to your interests to see if there are any commonalities. For example, if you are at a startup event, you can ask “What got you interested in startups”, “Do you have any favorite startups”, and “What do you think makes a startup successful”. The idea is to have some ready questions that seem natural and tap into people’s willingness to talk about themselves.

  • Be More Giving – Most networking activities feel very quid pro quo, you scratch my back and I’ll scratch your back. That is so old-school. The new school is to proactively and authentically help people. Offer your help, be willing to make an introduction, share some interesting news. Whatever it is, be the person that can bring value to the relationship, instead of playing things close to the vest. When you become known as the person that makes valuable connections, you become a trusted member of the community and you will find that people proactively help you.

  • Embrace Serendipity – As much as planning is helpful (see point #1), a dash of randomness can also be useful. It is often said that “you make your own luck”, meaning you put yourself in situations to be lucky. Therefore, be willing to go outside the box to explore new communities and events. These can be completely tangential to your goals and more oriented towards the fun side of the equation. The value of this is that you get to connect with people outside of your typical network which can bring fresh ideas and perspectives into your thinking.

  • Remain Engaged – Connecting with people at events is easy, staying in touch is much harder. Develop a system so that you can stay engaged with folks afterwards, maybe a combination of a quick email to exchange contact info and a LinkedIn connection. For example, I often use the LinkedIn mobile app to scan codes from people’s LinkedIn profiles, then instantly connect at that moment. Once you connect, make it a point to stay in touch on occasion. This can be through a newsletter, responding to social media updates, and setting a tickler to send an encouraging email to someone every few months. The simplest follow-up can sometimes lead to an amazing opportunity that would have otherwise been missed. Do not neglect your network!

Networking is a skill and with any skill, it gets better when you put it into action. Yes, it often feels daunting and it is easy to think that the payoff of networking is limited. In our new age of work however, your ability to develop a meaningful network is even more critical amid the noise of social media, the rise of remote working, and the growing distraction economy.

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The best way to think about the value of networking is that it is a way of increasing your social capital and building valuable strategic partnerships that help build your professional trajectory. And no matter how great as you think you are, no one achieves success solely from their own efforts. Building your professional network is building the business of you.

Thanks as always for your support and wish you much success going into the second half of the year. Despite everything going on in the world and the uncertainty that hangs over the recovery, things are looking up!

Mark Birch, Founder of Enterprise Sales Forum

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