Networking is for so many people a scary activity. The mere mention of the word “networking” and I see people start to sweat a little or suddenly they turn their attention to something else. However, if you really boil it all down to the very core, networking is simply talking to another human.
See no one wants to be in a conversation where words are not sincere or its sound overly rehearsed. Even worse, are those conversations that immediately start with “do you know of any job openings?”
Taking the pressure off both sides of the conversation is the easiest way to “network”. A great way of accomplishing this “no pressure” is to look activities or organizations where the emphasis is not on building business contacts.
4 “Out of the Box” Ways to Network
1 – Hobbies
Let’s start with your hobbies. Any hobby, even reading or walking, can get you out with people of similar interests. Even now (during Covid) there are ways to connect with people that share the same hobby as you. Virtual book clubs, virtual running clubs, craft groups, etc.
Hobbies are great ways to soften the initial conversations and make both sides forget that it is literally networking. I was walking my dog recently when a couple from down the street stopped to say hello since I was new to the neighborhood and asked about my dog. We never even talked about what I did nor anything remotely close to that, but she thought since I was new to the area that I would need a job. By the next afternoon she had found me a part-time job.
2 – Volunteering
Volunteering is an excellent way to network, meet people with similar interests and most especially help other people. It can be especially productive if you do it more than once or twice a year. Since I was in college, I have volunteered with multiple organizations, but it has been my 20 year partnership with the American Heart Association that has really produced the most benefit for me as well as for AHA. Even now during Covid, there are ways to volunteer and still interact with people that share your interest or passion.
3 – Sports
I will be the first to say that I did not grow up playing sports, nor do I play in sports now, but I love college basketball. I have actively used twitter to connect with other people in my area that love the same teams that I do. So, if you love to play a sport, even if it is tennis or running, there are ways to connect with others either by playing or by joining groups that appreciate the same sport. A great example is fantasy football! I am sure that you know at least one person that belongs to a fantasy football league and got to know the others fairly well.
4 – Start Your Own Group
If you are one of those people that just can’t find a group that fits what you like then start one of your own. Use www.meetup.com to create one (always be careful with meeting people on the internet) and have virtual meetings or chats. Or create a group on Facebook or even use a hashtag on twitter for your group discussions. Open your mind to the possibilities of connecting with other people that are passionate about what you like.
And if we are being truthful (which I hope we always are), ALL of the great connections that I have made have all come from the above. I have never felt comfortable about a true “networking” event and have steered clear of them. For me, volunteering has had the greatest reward in terms of connections, but sports and hobby are a very close second.
No matter what option your try, through the process of talking to each other, all of you get to know each other. These initial conversations start to build a level of trust between you and the other people. Some conversations continue and some will fizzle, but the chance is there each and every time.