9 reasons to network (the practice of meeting people)

November 27 2012

The term networking sends shivers up my spine. I cringe when I think of networking events where people pass out business cards like Halloween candy and anxiously look around the room to see who’s there. Conversations seem forced, and I end up answering the same routine questions throughout the evening. Network sounds anything but personal, human, warm, or meaningful to me.

So let’s call a spade a spade. Networking is really the practice of meeting people. As with any practice, you get better at it the more you do it. Some people have a natural talent for it; others require a bit more effort.

When I first started organizing dinners, I often faced a common question:

“Why should I attend a dinner with strangers when I barely have time to see my friends / colleagues / spouse / Aunt Betty?”

For those of you who don’t have the luxury of pondering the benefits of human interaction, I’m happy to provide a few reasons why meeting new people is good for you, your business, and your future.

1. Variety. The spice of life. By placing yourself in new situations, you’re able to meet different kinds of people, expand your circle, and broaden your knowledge of yourself and the world around you.

2. Business. Networking can yield a higher probability of referral-based business. If your sink is broken, would you rather hire a friend’s friend or a random name out of a search directory? Establishing personal relationships with those who can recommend your services is invaluable.

3. Opportunities. New gigs, client leads, partnerships, mentors, job opportunities. The options available to you are yours for the taking.  Obviously, you’ll want to make sure you strategically choose which routes to pursue based upon your own needs and values; it’s just a matter of saying “Yes, please.”

4. Connections. Let’s be honest: it really is who you know. If a position opens or a consultant is needed, the names that go into the hat are ones that can be vouched for. You don’t need me to tell you how many success stories have started with “I know a guy…”

5. Self-growth and development. It takes guts to put yourself in new situations and strike up conversations. It’s easy to be around the same people and talk about the same things. Be different. You never know what you’ll learn. If you’re willing to put yourself out there, you may find yourself with a group of people who can hold you accountable as you reach your goals.

6. Friends. Companionship, someone to show you new places, tell you about the latest fundraiser. No man is an island. I’m of the belief that our needs change throughout our life span, and different people can answer different needs at different times. For that reason, you can never have too many friends.

7. Communication. Introductions force you to analyze and succinctly communicate who you are and what you do. Meeting strangers can help you polish your image and get clear about what you want and the things you enjoy. Not sure? Notice the types of people you’re drawn to. The conversations you most enjoy can tell you a lot about yourself if you’re willing to look.

8. Encouragement. Most people want you to succeed. Sometimes, it’s easier to present struggles to people who are “less invested” in your world. Add more folks to cheer in your corner. Strangers can yield surprisingly positive results.

9. Excitement. If you’ve been to a really good party, you know. It’s fun, and you want more. If you haven’t found yourself in this kind of situation, look for it.

Practice meeting people when and where you can.

“The more you practice, the more you can, the more you want to, the more you enjoy it, the less it tires you.” —Robert A. Heinlein