Networking – How to start: Practice, put in the effort and learn
Networking has been a common topic of conversation with me recently. Everyone seems to know that networking is important, and the question often comes up on how to get started. They look to me as someone who sends tens of emails and LinkedIn messages everyday to connect with people I’ve met in the past as well as new people that I’m looking to BMC with (if you don’t know what BMC is take a look our previous post). The truth is, I did not start this way. And an interesting fact is that my current network is only about a year old. So how did I change from the shy computer scientist with very few close friends to someone who connects with 4-6 new people or previous contacts every day? Here were my simple steps:
Although my network is only about a year old, I was practicing before. Not really purposefully, but getting better. I would make a conscious effort to get out of my shell and be uncomfortable to try to connect with people. When taking transit, I’d make an effort to speak to the person beside me. To start that conversation. Some tips I use are:
- asking questions I already know the answer to: do you know how far it is to X stop?
- commenting on a current situation: wow, the train seems to be taking quite a long time. Does it always take this long?
- noticing something interesting about them: Pardon me, I couldn’t help noticing the pin o your bag, could I ask you where you got it from?
And this practice doesn’t mean that it has to be the most phenomenal conversation you’ve ever had, nor does it have to be for the entire duration of your transit ride. Just get one response to a question. Just make it last for 1 minute. Then as you do more and more, they can be longer and become more in depth and meaningful. This is especially important if you’re an introvert (like I was). Having those random conversations initially was terrifying. But with a bit of practice, you basically become desensitized and can move past the connection and move on to making the conversation meaningful. So whatever you do, keep practicing!
Put in the effort
Finding the opportunities to practice is the next important step. This turns your “networking intelligence” into “networking fitness”. Your knowledge into action. I recommend people to make networking goals such as:
- Meet 1 new person every week for coffee / lunch
- Have 1 self-initiated conversation with a random person per day
- Reconnect with 10 people every month
- Attend 1 meet up per month
Take all or some of the above and put them to action. But whatever you decide to do, make sure you in the effort.
Taking the time to reflect on what you did for the past day, week, month is helpful. What worked? what didn’t? And most importantly, what do you want to change for next time? You can make incremental improvements by tweaking your conversations. Taking the time to learn is important. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers: The Story of Success, he popularized the 10,000 hour rule that basically says by doing something for 10,000 hrs you can become an expert. Well the reality is that you have to make meaningful steps to improve in what is called “deliberate practice” to improve. So reflecting and learning allows you to be deliberate in your improvement versus just hoping you get better. So take the time to learn!
That’s it! The simple formula. And by no means am I perfect at networking. I occasionally struggle to reach out. or have awkward silences during conversations. and struggle to think of new discussion topics. But I continue to practice, put in the effort, and learn and I’ll continue to get better.
I’d love to hear your story and feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy networking!
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