“You’ll get your business through networking” they said. I had no idea how to do that.
A neighbour introduced me to a local networking group (part of a well-known international organisation) and they invited me to their next breakfast. So I went.
I turned up outside a cricket pavilion at some ungodly hour (I am not a natural morning person) in my best suit and shiniest shoes. It was a bright summer’s morning but I couldn’t see anyone, so I tentatively entered the building.
Inside it was dark, the security shutters still locked down and the lighting distinctly ‘atmospheric’. There was a smell of sweat and stale beer as I noticed a large bar on one side of the room. Ahead of me were a group of middle-aged men, mostly in shirtsleeves and trousers, or polo-shirts and shorts. They greeted me and got me a coffee and asked me about my (then new) business.
My entire body was screaming to run back out into the sunshine but I pushed that urge back down. This was ‘networking’, this was what I had to do. Breathe in and carry on.
The breakfast was pleasant enough but the meeting was unlike any other I had ever been to. There was a rigid agenda, a harsh formality to the proceedings. As the guest, I had to wait until last to introduce myself, to no great interest. There were smiles but there wasn’t much warmth.
At the end of the meeting I was taken to one side by the organisers and urged to sign up there and then ‘to reserve my spot and block out other coaches’, which seemed a really odd concept to me. I didn’t appreciate being pressurised and I wanted to think about whether it was the right group for me. “OK, you can come again as a guest but you’ll have to make your mind up then”, they said.
As I stood alone in the car park afterwards, enjoying the warmth of the sun, I looked back at the doorway and into the foreboding interior. “Why couldn’t they open the blinds?’ I thought, “it would have been so much nicer”.
Bemused, confused, uncomfortable, I was a turmoil of emotions. I felt naive, inept, ill-prepared, a fish out of water. The whole experience had been unnerving, unsettling, skin-crawlingly embarrassing. In short, unpleasant and a rather depressing.
But this was ‘networking’. I had to do this. Or so I thought.
After putting myself through a lot more similarly unpleasant situations, I found out I was wrong on both counts. Now I understand myself and what works for me, I do things that suit me and play to my strengths. I have changed my attitude, my outlook and my approach but I had to go through the experience of being a beginner and getting it wrong. I had to fail to find a way that worked for me.
Everyone has a ‘networking’ story. Someone told me a similar tale just the other day, worse, in fact. He wasn’t allow to speak and was marched off to a separate room to be signed up! He declined their kind offer.
You are going to have to be a beginner and work out what’s right for you. There isn’t a short cut but I hope we can help you have a faster and smoother journey.
2 thoughts on “Network novice”
Katherine Bryant 23rd November 2015
This made me giggle Colin, what an awful experience! I love meeting new people (I put it down to being an only child and having to walk into rooms of strangers solo from a young age!) but after early unpleasant experiences akin to yours I never go to anything labelled a “networking event”! My background is in insurance and find attending lectures at Lloyds and beyond, workshops, mastermind groups, industry events and so on is much more interesting and I meet fabulous people who share my interests (plus no one ever pressurises you to sign up!).
colinnewlyn 23rd November 2015
I prefer attending events where I know the other people share the same interests. The conversations are much interesting and natural and more likely to create the rapport and engagement that you are looking for. If only I’d be told that at the beginning …