Updated March 3, 2022 . AmFam Team
Networking — it’s an activity that even the most extroverted among us dread. Although the idea behind it seems promising, the way in which we go about it can feel unnatural and uncomfortable. Yet it seems necessary if you’re looking to propel your goals (career or otherwise) forward, so you’ll just have to grin and bear it, right?
The answer is yes…to some extent. But there is a way to make it more valuable, interesting and beneficial! At least according to Ryan Paugh, co-founder and COO of The Community Company (Opens in a new tab), and co-author of Superconnector: Stop Networking and Start Building Business Relationships that Matter (Opens in a new tab).
As a super-connector himself, Ryan is no stranger to the woes of traditional networking.
“When I think about ‘networking,’ I immediately paint a picture of a crowded bar, nametags, surface-level conversations and a guy who can’t wait to hand you his business card,” says Ryan. “And as you start talking, you can tell that he’s already eyeing up someone behind you, barely paying any attention to you or what you have to say.”
You can probably relate to this all-too-accurate scenario, but it’s important to remember that, at its roots, networking has amazing potential. Perhaps the traditional way of doing things has just run its course, and a change in society is what’s to blame.
“Simple actions like our yearning for more ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ makes what networking was meant to be less attainable,” says Ryan. “It’s crazy that in today’s high-tech world, we can access anyone in any place, yet we’re more disconnected from each other than we’ve ever been.”
But don’t worry! Ryan has some great insights to help you learn to prioritize connection above all else. And it’s not as complicated as you might expect.
“I won’t say that every person should just throw out their entire playbook and start from scratch. What I will say is that a lot of us are just continuing to do the same old stuff and getting nothing out of it,” explains Ryan.
So, are you ready to find a way of networking that actually works for you? Here’s how to get started.
Shift your strategy. Many people go into networking events expecting to get something out of it. But what you might not realize is that making connections is a two-way street! And you’ve got to give a lot to get a little.
“It all starts with changing the strategy from ‘what can I get out of this?’ to ‘what can I give that’s truly valuable to those around me?’” says Ryan. “Great connectors know that by making the simple act of unconditional giving a part of your routine, you get back ten-fold.”
Define your ideal setting. Understanding where and when you thrive when it comes to relationship building is important. For example, maybe you connect better one-on-one or in small groups vs. working a room at a crowded event. Take some time to think about when you’re most comfortable, and look for opportunities with similar environments.
“I’m an introvert,” claims Ryan. “But once I realized that if I curated smaller groups of people in a more intimate setting, the anxiety I felt about meeting new people slipped away and better relationships started to form. There are countless venue options for connecting, and you need to have a heart-to-heart with yourself to determine what options make the most sense for you.”
Ask great questions. If you really want to build a relationship with someone, surface-level questions aren’t going to cut it. You’ve got to dig a little deeper to foster good and productive conversation.
“Great connections start with great questions, and many of us ask terrible ones,” shares Ryan. “For example, ‘what do you do?’ is one of the worst and rarely provides a meaningful return. Instead, I like to ask ‘what are you working on right now that you’re really excited about?’ — the specificity brings the conversation to a more exciting place and makes the odds of discovering a way that you might be able to help more in your favor.”
Listen — and prove it. Listen and respond — it’s an age-old rule, but one that so many fail to follow. But when you quiet down and really think about what the other person is saying, you’d be surprised at what you could get out of a conversation.
“The best connectors let other people do the talking, collect meaningful information by listening and then figure out how to connect the dots,” explains Ryan. “Another great strategy you can use is to remind people that you were listening. Remind them that you actually know something about them that you couldn’t find by doing a simple Google search when you next meet up.”
Prioritize quality, not quantity. Making a ton of connections at once can be a very exciting concept, but if your new relationships aren’t on track to being fully developed, how much value can they really bring to you or the other person?
“Never stop building connections, just focus on building more meaningful ones,” encourages Ryan. “Quality over quantity is paramount. Patience is key, too. There’s no ‘8-minute-abs’ formula for building great relationships, and the best connections may not yield a return for yourself for years to come. That’s normal.”
So, whether you’re a veteran networker or are completely new to the game, taking this approach is a great way to build and foster relationships that truly matter. And those relationships can only amplify your dream pursuit.
“At the beginning of every great opportunity in my life was a person who gave me a shot,” shares Ryan. “Hard work will only get you so far in life. But if you match that virtue with putting a high value on the company you keep, I promise it’s a one-two punch that’ll help you succeed in any industry. Just remember — people will always be your most important asset.”
And with that, we encourage you to get out there and make connections! You never know where they might take you. Your networking savvy could turn new connections into lasting friendships.