Last month I delivered a workshop about business networking to one of my business networks. It is a little bit flattering to be invited to share some networking insights with a network, and so I made sure to create a few handy little tools for delegates to take away from the workshop in a bid to deliver value.
Of course those who attended the workshop did so with a view to developing their skills as a networker and might therefore be called a self-selecting audience. There were two seasoned network marketing entrepreneurs who had been successfully running their businesses for 7 and 10 years respectively and who could hardly be called inexperienced networkers. Others had just started a business or had run their business for some time but were relatively new to networking. There were also a few newbies to Oxfordshire who were busy making new professional friends locally.
It was a nicely mixed group, but of course it was not a representative sample of my local business community.
What did people associate networking with?
Taking the temperature in the room, I asked what words came to mind when thinking of networking:
‘putting yourself out there’
‘nerves and crippling shyness’
‘connecting with people’
‘being out of my comfort zone’
The majority admitted to feeling uncomfortable with networking to some degree for different reasons. The overwhelming view was that business networking is a necessary ‘evil’ which nobody really enjoys, but is considered essential for business. And although this was a group of people who wanted to brush up their networking skills, I also asked several very experienced networkers the same question and they gave similar answers.
Few of us truly live to network it seems.
What is the trouble with networking?
A top reason cited by my merry band of business owners was that business networking events are contrived occasions. Most described feeling uncomfortable with walking into ‘a room full of suits’ where often men still are in the majority, and then proceed to artificially talk about business. Some felt anxious about starting conversations and others about being rejected as uninteresting.
As the conversation in the room developed we discovered that there are remedies for these things and skills to master to help us deal with these situations.
But that’s not the whole story.
Some people are questioning the purpose and benefits of business networking full stop. They compare the investment – memberships, paying for the meetings themselves, taking time away from the job and travel costs – to the results and are asking themselves whether other ways to make connections might not be more effective. Networking takes place everywhere now: through online and offline communities of interest, social media interaction and even at 30.000 feet.
The relative safety and ease of online interactions where we can hide behind a Twitter handle compared to face-to-face networking which can involve getting up at six am on a frosty January morning to attend a business breakfast fifteen miles away is surely very appealing. Online interactions allow us to crack open one eye at six in the morning to look at the smartphone and engage before going back to sleep, job done.
Perhaps the real trouble with business networking is that our personal skills required for effective relationship building in person are being eroded by hiding behind social media and email too much.
Do you enjoy networking in the real world? Do you prefer online interactions to taking time away to join a roomful of strangers for a fry up? Come on – post me a comment below in between bouncing the baby on your knee and stacking the dishwasher!