The best networking advice you will (n)ever get

Forget networking. It’s time to build real relationships.

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Credit for this one goes to Texasdiva74 on Pinterest

“Hi, how are you? My name is Bob.”

“Hi Bob, I’m Jane. What do you do in life, where do you work?”

How often have you started a conversation like that? I know I must have done it at least a handful of times every week while working in both Geneva and New York. That’s over a thousand times in the past seven years, and I am being conservative.

It does the trick, if what you’re trying to do is get the introduction out of the way. Before you get to the “interesting” part of the conversation.

Except with an intro like that, it’s going to take a lot more work to make the conversation anything other than an uphill struggle. It’s a format where our jobs define us, and while some people are fortunate enough to be passionate about what they do, many are not.

A few years ago I went to a TEDx event in Geneva. When I registered, I had to choose three words that would be included on my badge, as conversation starters.

When I arrived, I saw that most other participants had stuck to key words relating to whatever brought them to the event, most often their job. “Chronic diseases, cancer, prevention” or “maternal health, nutrition, WHO”.

Mine were “Bolivia, food, happiness”. Oops. Black sheep, anyone? And yet, it worked because they were words everyone understood enough to use as an ice-breaker.

Going a step further, I just spent the past year traveling. Imagine how refreshing it was to meet other travelers and spend a day hiking (or whatever other activity led us to meet in the first place — picking the same spot for a sunset beer or the same organization to volunteer with), exchanging notes about places we had visited, favorite books, and enjoying the conversation so much we occasionally forgot to tell each other our names until a few hours in!

So here is the best networking advice I have never been given: stop networking and start building relationships.

Don’t ask the obvious questions. What people do, where they work, where they live, even their names — you can get to that later.

Instead, try finding out what makes people tick. Their passion. Ask about what they are good at, what their favorite book is, or the best trip they have taken.

“A networking event is a farming event, not a hunter event. You’re there to plant seeds and cultivate your garden, not ‘bag prey’.” — Sandy Jones-Kaminski

It might sound too simple to work, but that’s the beauty of it. It is simple. And coming out of such a conversation, you will have a much stronger connection to someone than if you had merely given each other the elevator pitch about your respective jobs and companies.

You don’t want just another business card to add to your growing pile. You’ll forget who it was and struggle with what to write or say if the day ever comes that you want to get in touch again.

Every time I receive a business card, on it I write when and where I met the person, and a few key words about our conversation. “Loves gardening. 12 year old son who does magic tricks. Husband likes fishing.”

That way in the next few days, if I come across an article or image that relates to any of the topics I know are truly relevant, I have the perfect reason to send an email saying hi and taking our meeting to the next level.

And if you ever have to give key words about yourself, don’t hesitate to be original. It never hurts to be remembered.

Do you have any networking or relationship building tips you’d like to add to the above? I would love to hear any and all suggestions.

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