“Networking” is lame

When was the last time you went to a networking event and thought “Wow that was great! I made some really meaningful connections and can’t wait to see those people again.”? It’s probably never happened. Instead, you went and it was awkward, but you managed to meet a few people. Unfortunately, they weren’t terribly interesting. You exchanged business cards and one of you might have sent a LinkedIn request. You threw the business cards on your desk, shoved them in a drawer or a pocket and went on with life.

There is a better way.  I’ve learned that it’s better to have conversations, and that having a deeper conversation leads to a more meaningful connection.

When I first realized the power of connecting over a conversation, I was at an UnConference where there were just 50 of us. Certainly, the small size made it easy to meet everyone, but the magic happened during the scheduled topics for conversation. The best conversations were with 2-5 people, where I got to know the other people on a much richer level as we shared how we work, our frustrations and successes. At the end of that conference, I felt that I had truly connected with some amazing people in my industry, people with whom I could continue to have conversation and whom I could ask for guidance. In fact, I felt like I had found my tribe. To this day, I continue to participate in events the group puts on, the Slack channel conversations, and I know that I can reach out to those I’ve met at any time.

More recently, I had another wonderful opportunity to make meaningful connections. A friend and former colleague invited me to a happy hour he was pulling together. He had decided he had enough of those lame networking events and wanted to try something different. So he picked a date, a location and invited people he knew who were doing interesting things in town with the simple intent that all these people needed to meet each other. There was no agenda other than to get together, have a drink and see where that took us. Whoever came was right for the night. It was about making connections.

The happy hour was fantastic. There were a few people I knew already, but many that I did not or had not formally met. The conversations were between two people or a group – the size shifted throughout the night and the conversations pivoted into all sorts of interesting topics and musings. By the end of the night, I had been invited to join a private Facebook group of local powerful women, I had set up a few dates for lunch or coffee, I had three follow-ups for some market validation interviews and even a business partnership opportunity. Everyone who went wanted to know when the next one would happen.

In both of these examples, I supposed I was “networking,” but my starting point was people and learning about them instead of starting with a goal in mind and trying to meet the people whom I thought could serve my purposes. When it comes to networking, I think that makes all the difference.

My challenge to you is find the conversations. You’ll be rewarded with meaningful connections that will help you through your life and work.

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