Finding Your Inner Social Butterfly- A Way to Network Like a Pro

“Great another networking event!”  The fact that being inebriated makes you less conscious of your behavior, thus making the tedious task of “small talk socializing” at the event easier makes for an attractive reason to drink (sip here won’t hurt!).  But if you choose to stick to the halal/haram distinction (the sunnah and Quranic mandate) then…

“Great another networking event!”  The fact that being inebriated makes you less conscious of your behavior, thus making the tedious task of “small talk socializing” at the event easier makes for an attractive reason to drink (sip here won’t hurt!).  But if you choose to stick to the halal/haram distinction (the sunnah and Quranic mandate) then you can’t get your liquor on.

Being drunk also won’t make the situation easier, nor will it be beneficial to you in your personal life or for you career.  I think lots of folks feel that “networking” is just a useless term that lacks any credible real world translation.  Its fake, so people there are fake, and the conversations there are shallow and ultimately its what you do if you are in the world of business, of any sorts.  Working at a non-profit I got to go to my fair share of these “networking” events.  They come in a variety of window dressings but ultimately its a means for people to meet other people and get something out of it.

If you are like me, you probably found yourself going toward the corners of the room and finding a group to “nest” with because its safe.  But as the years went on I learned to challenge myself and some of the greatest collaborations I had the opportunity to work on came from meeting people in these situations.

If you don’t believe me then just pick up a networking book, anyone, and the statistics are all laid bare.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 70 percent of jobs are found through networking.  All my internship during college, my college jobs as well as my career at CAIR came through networking.

Okay, so I shouldn’t have to be selling you on networking, if thats the case this blogpost isn’t for, go over to this post at Yale, do some soul searching there.  Below is a how to guide to become a better networker.

I learned to network by watching some amazing networkers, then imitating their style and adapting it to work for myself.  There are some basic rules you should remember because networking is a tedious task, its not just simply talking to people, its learning to be efficient in what you talk about.  You also have to show a little gumption by presenting yourself as composed an interested in what people have to say even though you might not be.  Also, you need to come off as being an interesting person yourself.  All of that is an sort of craft, call it acting?  This means you can’t have emotional meltdowns, you should stick with the solid rule of leaving religion and politics out of the conversation (a bit hard to to do if you follow certain religious etiquette’s and practices, at which point its the big elephant in the room).  Finally, you got to look your best, be presentable because first impressions count.

Like any art its something that through practice and some basic foundational understandings you can make your own.  One of the ultimate networkers I have met in my time is a guy who goes by the initials O.G.  He’s the ultimate social networking guru.  If you know him, you probably can drop his name in any new city you happen to be in and people will know him, or know of him.  His style is classic, simple and pretty ingenious.  He opens with “So, whats your story.”  You feel like he’s there to listen to you and through the first five minutes he’ll get all that makes you the person you are- your name, your brief personal history, why you are at the event, where you are from, what you do, and anything else you drop within that time frame.  Then he’s on to the other folks in the room and just like that he’s worked the room where he’s met all the faces he hasn’t been introduced to.

Thats the key though, being introduced.  You tell yourself someone is going to introduce you to this person, or that person, but that never happens, what then?  Try this activity- give yourself 3 minutes of time without any distractions.  Write down “What is your story?” and start the timer.    See what you write down.  If you want further proof, ask two other people to do the same thing.  What I notice is that there is a common thread in the responses people put down to that question, but sometimes there are big holes.  Like someone might not put down “why they are at an event” because thats outside the context of the conversation, yet that helps establish a point of relations.  In the future people will remember that you were at that particular even for that particular purpose.

At the end of the day you want your networking experience to be beneficial, to give it purpose you need to construct some foundation to work off of.  I find that there are some really good questions, and I present them in an order that will make sense later:

  1. What brings you to the event?  how are you connected to the organization?
  2. Whats your name?
  3. Where are you from?  Where do you live?
  4. Whats your profession?
  5. When your not working, what do you like to do?
  6. Where have you travelled? Or do you have any travel plans in the future?
  7. Ask any question- except for politics and/or religion- unless the other person brings it up.
This is something I picked from Simon Vetter when I was attending the San Diego World Trade Center’s monthly speaking series.  I found it incredibly useful in teaching how to network, get better at art of networking, or help manage anxiety about networking events.  I wish someone had told me this earlier because it makes networking easier.
You are probably thinking that this technique will require you to take a notecard with you so that way you can sneak a peak at the questions and jot down the list as you go along talking to someone.  No, actually you don’t have to do that.  In fact, in my blogpost “I wish they had name tags at weddings” I introduced the technique I learned about remember names.  The idea is that you associate what your trying to remember with an image that you will clearly recollect when required to do so.  This is a memory technique that is ancient and forgotten, but I am going to show you how Mr. Vetter applied it to the same string of questions above and I think it will help you remember when your at the next networking event.
Close your eyes an imagine each statement.  Remember that you need to connect each image to the one before it, like a string of pearls.
  1. Imagine yourself in a stadium full of people (whatever sporting even you fancy);
  2. See your name written on the field;
  3. In the corner of the field you see your house;
  4. Out of the house- door, window, chimney, whatever- you see a briefcase flying out.
  5. You keep your eyes locked on the briefcase until it gets pierced by a golf club and falls down;
  6. At this point you begin to see an airplane flying above the stadium;
  7. You follow the airplane until you notice it has a green light at the front of it.

Now you tell yourself this ridiculous string of images until you begin to associate the line of questioning in which the stadium reflect the question of “why are you here? How are you associated to this event?”  The name on the field is your way of introducing yourself to the person your talking to and getting their name.  The house in the corner is the question about “where the person lives and whats their background?”  (remember their name, if its Indian, well your names sounds like Indian…)  The flying briefcase is connected to the question about the persons profession.  The golf club is about what the person does outside of work- they might sit on a non-profit board or be interested in the environment and you happen to know someone who shares that interest.  The airplane is the question about traveling, and Mr.Vetter basically said that everyone likes to travel so its a neutral safe question to ask in order to get insight into the person your talking to, who knows they might be speaking at a conference that just might be something you would want to go to in order to advance your professional network?  Finally the green light is your opportunity to ask any questions that you feel will help you get to know the person.

Thats networking technique in  a nutshell.  Go to the mosque or some community event and try it.  At the end of the day if you won’t take risks and challenge yourself to talk to people you don’t know, no technique is going to help you.  You have to be willing to put yourself out there, this technique is a means of managing the anxiety and awkwardness presented in networking situations.  Finally, remember don’t stick to one person, the more you move around the room the comfortable the situation gets.  At some point people won’t be strangers, you would have met most of the folks present and the networking situation won’t be as intimidating as it would be had you not mingled.

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