5 Non-Network-Y Ways To Network With The Best Of Them

Throw a dinner party

Myke Näf, founder and CEO of Doodle, tells us that “People who wouldn’t throw a dinner party otherwise don’t magically start being much more social thanks to tools such as Doodle.” But, “People tell us it’s more fun to organize events.”

Volunteer

A low-key way to do it: Work the registration desk at an industry conference. Everyone has to check in and pick up their name tag at some point--and you’ll be there to meet the people you want to meet.

Grab a desk in a co-working space

A co-working space keeps the vibe casual, but brings you under the same roof as other free agents.

Arrange a networking playdate

A fraught undertaking, to be sure, but if you’ve got kids who are the same age as those of a professional contact, you could suggest bringing the kids along when you get together.

Form your own group

Judi Rosenthal, an Ameriprise financial advisor, is part of a “mastermind” group with three other women. “Keeping it small means we have more time to hear from each other,” she says.

5 Non-Network-Y Ways To Network With The Best Of Them

Let's be honest: Traditional networking is boring and a little bit sleazy. Here's how to spice up the process and have some fun, all while making the connections you need.

You’re not the only person who hates weird cocktail party conversations.

"It’s true that networking often gets a bad reputation," says Porter Gale, the former vice president of marketing at Virgin America, and author of Your Network is Your Net Worth. "My advice is to shift your mind-set and focus on developing authentic values-based relationships rather than just collecting transactional interactions."

After all, you don’t need to know everyone. You just need to know a few people who’ll go to bat for you. "Try setting a goal of meaningful conversations with one or two people rather than connecting with an entire room full of folks," says Gale.

Here are five ways to make that happen.

1. Throw a dinner party

It sounds like a pain. But you can make it easier. A college thesis done by a student in Switzerland found that it took test subjects a mere 5-10 minutes to schedule a 4-6 person dinner party and 31-35 minutes to schedule a 10-15 person dinner party with Doodle (the online scheduling tool), vs. 20-25 minutes and 90-120 minutes, respectively, with email and phone calls. Myke Näf, founder and CEO of Doodle, notes that "People who wouldn’t throw a dinner party otherwise don’t magically start being much more social thanks to tools such as Doodle." But, "People tell us it’s more fun to organize events."

Hire a caterer to make the food and to clean up afterwards, and you won’t have to do anything but get to know your guests better.

2. Volunteer

If your primary purpose is to do good, you can volunteer in any way you’d like. But if you’re also trying to expand your network, look for gigs that bring you into contact with people repeatedly. Julie Erickson has been an elementary school PTA president and is currently a middle school PTA membership chair (they increased membership 62.4% last year, she reports). "Having the leadership role requires communication with others to ask them to help out, join, etc.," she says. "I also learned if someone says no to ask if they know someone who may be interested in helping." A more low-key way? Work the registration desk at an industry conference. Everyone has to check in and pick up their name tag at some point—and you’ll be there to meet the people you want to meet.

3. Grab a desk in a co-working space

You’re unlikely to meet new people working at home. A co-working space keeps the vibe casual, but brings you under the same roof as other free agents. "Meetups, events, co-working spaces, and online communities are the new power pockets, or places where connections, conversations, and relationship-building efforts are in high gear," says Gale. "The key is to analyze the potential gains and judge them according to your purpose." If you’re looking to meet graphic designers, join a co-working space that’s teeming with them.

4. Arrange a networking playdate

A fraught undertaking, to be sure, but if you’ve got kids who are the same age as those of a professional contact, you could suggest bringing the kids along when you get together. I recently spent an evening—kids included—with the owner of a website I’ve written for. I brought the kids along when I met a blogger who’d written about me on a recent family trip to Seattle. My agent and I hashed out the idea of what became my book, 168 Hours, at a playground. The list goes on.

5. Form your own group

Judith Rosenthal, an Ameriprise financial advisor, is part of a "mastermind" group with three other women. "Keeping it small means we have more time to hear from each other," she says. They’re all in different lines of work, but they present their business challenges on a monthly phone call and strategize together. "I have gotten some of the best referrals from the other women in the group," she says, as well as "best practices and solutions I can use at work and at home."

[Image: Flickr user Susan Sermoneta]

Add New Comment

7 Comments

  • Sabelotodo

    If you want to meet like-minded people in face-meeting situations, look for ways of talking about some of your key values as you work your way into the "getting-acquainted"-conversation. What are your core business values and what's their overlay into the larger community? It may take a little moxy to be willing to put yourself out there, but people who share those, will want to add their own focus while those who don't will find a way to quickly end the conversation. 

  • Bronson Page

    I've met more solid networking contacts through my recreational kickball league than after years on LinkedIn, plus, I get more exercise.

  • Anthony Reardon

    Very nice Laura,

    It's worth pointing out that networking has been a marketing model, and consequently abused to the point people resent it. This is particularly true in some industries that really leave people with no other viable alternative than to try to sell to people they know or meet. At the same time, social media is often developed on the premise of "transactional interactions" which can totally miss the point- namely that it's supposed to be "social".

    In general, I bet the experience most people find on the web is a prevailing sense of apathy and animosity. By that  measure alone, qualitative connections become all the more valuable even if they have nothing to do directly with business. At the very least being able to relate as a real person can help support you through the challenges of doing business, perhaps not take yourself so seriously, and tolerate the entropy that comes with objections. For instance, I make a lot of friends playing sports, but doubt any of them have a clue about what I do.

    More specifically, if you can have meaningful relationships online, those can have a value far beyond what you might expect. By being genuine, even if in private correspondence, you can develop an authentic reputation that precedes you. If you do it publically, say as on a forum, then you just might be surprised by how many people end up impressed by the level of personal attention you provide, perhaps people that never end up engaging your discussion.

    Qualitative networking is definitely the way to go, and it can be instrumental in both branding what kind of business you have, as well a sound strategy for accomplishing "superior market intimacy".

    Best, Anthony

  • Monica Bradshaw

    This has really inspired me to think out of the box. As an entrepreneur and having recently moved to a new city it is hard to meet and strategize with other like-minded individuals. I think I'll try reaching out to some others in town for a dinner party or mastermind group. 

  • Cameron

    I couldn't agree more. When did networking become a game of who could collect the most business cards? I've seen so many people walking around with giant stacks of cards and calling themselves networkers. Actual networking should be about creating meaningful connections. It's important to remember that it goes both ways. Just because a person can't help you doesn't mean you can't help them, which is often the more rewarding situation anyways.

  • Adrian

    Hi there.  These are great suggestions and (blatant self-promotion), I've done all of these things and continue to do them!  What is incredibly important is that by doing these things you will also avoid networking burnout that occurs when you do too much networking that isn't fun, isn't rewarding and simply seems to be a waste of time and energy.

  • Teddy Burriss

    Great ideas Laura.

    Networking is not about business, or asking for a job or getting sponsorship dollars. It's all about making connections that can turn into relationships. These in turn can lead to conversations that include the "ask", but only after the connection turns into some level of relationship.

    Thanks for sharing.