NETWORKING: A SHIFT IN PERSPECTIVE
icture that dreaded scene of walking into a room full of strangers. Who would you choose to shoot the breeze with about working on the next video treatment, brainstorming that next chapter in your book, or perfecting the sub-bass frequencies on your current masterpiece? Statistics show that even the boldest among us would prefer to dive into the creative aspect of their craft and away from all the politicking. Still, we can’t get away from that social allergy-inducing, yet inevitable and important verb in all industries: Networking.
We all have it - the intrinsic, unique, and organic form of self-expression when communicating with the outside world. However, taking that step out of one's comfort zone and usual social circles to ‘network’ can feel daunting and foreign. You’re trying to build a career founded on that form of self-expression. And suddenly, you’re confronted with an unnatural social set-up where everyone is sizing each other up. Who’s going to make the first move? Cue shuffles, nods and handshakes, pretending you heard their name in that intro. Super awkward.
And then begs the question, “why are we here?” Is networking really what the Harvard Business Review deemed “the unpleasant task of trading favors with strangers”? What should I talk about? What if I am the dictionary-definition of an introvert - is there hope for me? We get it. So why don’t we dive straight in to this classic business exchange in search of some answers to these questions.
There is nothing more unique about you than your story. Never stray far from the core of who you are and what you are there to do. Staying true to a vision and not being dependent on a specific exchange can shift the energy in an introduction - and in a room.
“The most important thing is that one allows themselves to be seen for who they are, their craft…to own it, to give themselves permission to be that, and not a contrived version of what they think it should look like,” Jazmin Medrano tells The Advance. Medrano is a transformational coach and performing artist based in Berlin, a TedX presenter, and networking event producer for the paradigm-shifting platform Bumble. She also spent 8 years as a record label executive with Universal Music Group, in both Miami and Los Angeles.
“No intention is present other than to express that creativity,” she continues. “Organize it, have a presence, and get out of your comfort zone to simply share your authentic self. Nothing more. Not everyone has the natural innate ability to work a room, and you don’t have to. Being authentically present is a huge first step.”
Networking Is Not Sales
It's not about closing sales. Networking events are voluntary. Everybody is there for the same fundamental purpose: To meet people and spark mutually beneficial relationships. When someone is palm slapping business cards like the neighborhood pusher, its cringeworthy. Let’s be honest, we’ve all seen that in action and can spot it a mile away. One or two meaningful exchanges carry more weight than 30 business cards in your pocket. While it may appear like confidence from afar, it is an example of exactly what not to do.
The human condition is such that we get nervous, filling our minds with expectations or must-do’s as if we are trying to control an outcome. That’s when we know we are in sell-mode, rather than in give-mode. The “Father of Modern Networking”, Dr. Ivan Misner, reminds us that “Networking is more about ‘farming’ than it is about ‘hunting.’ It's about cultivating relationships.”
In her piece for FastCompany titled ‘A Networking Paradigm Shift: Focus On Giving, Not Taking,’ Elizabeth Segran notes that “Networking often feels like using people as a means to an end. A better strategy is to lead with giving rather than taking.”
“Many people fear that they don’t have any value to add to the lives of those they admire,” contributes marketing strategist Selena Soo. “They treat people higher up on the ladder as if they were somehow out of reach or somehow better than them. But the moment you put someone on a pedestal is the moment they start looking down at you. The dynamic shifts when you see networking as an opportunity to explore what you can do to help others.”
This also means focusing on what we’re calling Dialogue over Data. Express yourself through your personal story. What part of your story drives you to do what you do? Try and refrain from sharing facts about yourself that people can easily find online, and instead, engage in a dialogue that illustrates your personal story. Talk about where you’ve been, what inspires or drives you, and give those around you an opportunity to connect outside of straight data points.
Understanding Social Capital & Your Hidden Network
The landscape has changed. A place once dominated by close personal connections has been significantly altered by modern networking, the offline and online worlds becoming indistinguishable. Trust seems to be the biggest casualty in this newfound space. While trust can be intuitive, it is primarily something to be earned. From face to face engagements to connecting distantly via social platforms, the multiple methods of networking mean trust cannot be as easily achieved as it once was.
We are big fans of identifying the social capital you didn’t even know you were cultivating. What is social capital? Bestselling author & Innovative Management expert David Burkus is a wealth of knowledge on this topic. From him we learn that social capital is, simply stated, the value in an existing network. We learn that companies whose employees are well-versed in social capital dramatically outperform their competitors. “Studies suggest we should completely redefine networking,” he says. “It's not about something you do, or even about meeting strangers….It's about understanding the network around you and acting accordingly.”
In his book Friend of a Friend, he describes us all to have a treasure trove of “dormant ties”. These are the people we don’t talk to anymore but were once in dialogue with. Even an old best friend or former work colleague. He suggests making a list of 4 to 5 people we haven’t spoken to in some time and checking in. Stepping outside of our circle is necessary, and Burkus challenges that “stepping outside of our circle is best done by going through our circle.” Reconnecting with old friends can be highly fruitful, and already has a bit of that trust factor built-in.
We hope these resources can help you navigate the intimidating yet manageable world of Networking. Nobody has all the answers, but practice is always vital in advancing in any arena. With networking, consider starting with places or events that don’t carry as much weight for you professionally, but still spark interest. Consider volunteering at events inspire you personally or professionally. If becoming a speaker is your dream, volunteer at the next TEDx talk near you! There is a rhythm to networking, and with enough practice, each person can find their own.
The Advance began with the intention of creating community and dialogue around what the future of live entertainment looks like, how we are pinpointing places for growth, streamlining processes, highlighting advancements, and shaping it as a collective. Get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org