How to Make Networking Less Painful
Article by Natas Lekic
For many young professionals, attending a networking event sounds about as fun as going to the dentist. Necessary? Yes. Enjoyable? Not so much.
Attitudes like this are understandable — the pressure is high, you’re not sure whom to approach first, and conversations can range from awkward to downright embarrassing — but they’re also shortsighted.
Networking is the most effective way to find a new job, and 84 percent of professionals agree that face-to-face interactions are the best way to cultivate better business relations. Anecdotally speaking, connecting with others via networking events has been integral to building my business. I’ve formed partnerships, gained affiliates, and won clients all because of networking.
Of course, you already know that networking is valuable. What’s harder to understand is that it doesn’t have to be miserable. If you reframe your thinking around networking, you can transform it from a necessary evil to a powerful tactic for building your personal and professional brand.
Here is the two-step approach I use to make networking not only bearable, but valuable:
1. Illuminate Your ‘Why’
I empathize with those who dread networking because I used to struggle with it myself. When I first started my business, I was desperate to make productive connections and gain traction, but I often left events feeling frustrated because I genuinely didn’t know how to get beyond the compulsory “What do you do?” exchange.
It’s not that I was shy. In fact, I was eager to make introductions, shake hands, and dive into meaningful conversations. But after a minute or two of chatting, I’d see the other person’s eyes glaze over, a clear sign that my pitch was falling flat. I quickly realized I needed to reframe how I introduced myself and my book editing company.
Instead of telling people who I was and what I did, I began illuminating why I do what I do. For instance: I own a book editing business because I worked in book publishing, so it’s an industry in which I am well versed. I arrived at publishing because I believe books enrich the world and help us understand new ideas, connect with others, and grow personally.
Now, when I’m networking with people who aren’t in my industry and I’m asked what I do, I say, “I help authors craft books that earn a special place in the hearts and minds of their readers.” This is a more accurate description of what I do, and it’s a lot more interesting. By getting to the root of your why, you can communicate a purpose that speaks to more people, even those outside of your target audience.
When I’m networking inside my industry, I use a slightly different approach, introducing myself by highlighting the value I bring to my potential clients. Typically, that looks something like this: “I work with inspiring authors who want to learn how to craft books that realize their ambitious visions.” This way, I can convey to industry insiders both what I do and the value I deliver in one strong statement.
2. Deliver the Unexpected
A great introduction is important, but for networking to be truly valuable, you need to turn that introduction into a follow-up meeting.
There are multiple ways to keep your conversation moving organically from the moment of introduction, but I think the best and most underused way to do this is by talking books. When you meet someone who could be a valuable networking connection, offer them a personalized book recommendation. Ideally, you’ll have a copy on hand to gift your new connection, but an enticing (and quick) description works as well.
This strategy is successful for several reasons. First, it’s unexpected. People rarely anticipate leaving a networking event with anything aside from sales swag or business cards. Furthermore, offering a person a physical book relevant to their interests creates a much stronger association than any sales pitch ever will. This act establishes you as someone who is knowledgeable in their area of interest, which makes you a much more alluring connection.
That said, for this strategy to work, you need to prepare. You should know ahead of time who it is that you’d like to meet at a networking event. Then, do your research. What is their area of expertise? What topics do they often write or talk about? What are their personal interests? Based on the answers to these questions, what book do you think this person would enjoy?
When you deliver the gift, add a personal touch, such as a note on the inside cover explaining why you think they’ll love the book. This further establishes the personal connection between the two of you.
I’ve been on the receiving end of this act a few times, and each time the book was incredibly valuable to me. To receive a book that delivers impactful insights or inspires you is priceless. You can bet I prioritize gift givers’ emails and look for ways to help them.
If you’re dreading the next networking event, take a look at your bookshelf. You might not find a volume you want to pass along, but you may remember an idea you want bring up. Either way, you stop relying on charisma and start relying on intelligence and aptitude instead. That’s exactly how you make a lasting impression.
A version of this article originally appeared on SUCCESS.com.
Natasa Lekic is the founder of NY Book Editors, a book editing service where authors are matched with experienced editors from the Big 5 publishers. Natasa believes every author has a unique story that can inform, inspire, and entertain readers.