A simple, but effective, training tool for learning to network is learning to be generous. Think of most networking functions. Most people are too petrified to do more than stand around. Some stand alone. Others huddle in groups with friends they brought along or with people they barely know. Mixed in with the frightened masses are a few outgoing people who step up to a new group, or new person, and ask what they do.
Most of us are grateful to be talking to anyone, but there is a mercenary quality to the question;
"So what do you do?"
Seminar presenters and book-writers pull down big books teaching you how to answer the question, "So what do you do?", but how many people hear the unspoken words that follow it?
So what do you do, and how can I profit from it?
So what do you do, so I can determine whether I need to move on to someone else?
So what do you do, and answer quickly so I can tell you what I do.
There's nothing wrong with asking someone what they do, but the intention behind the question is seldom curiousity. It's a transaction of information - and it's why we hate networking. So I want you, both as a candidate, and as a salesperson (and we're all salespeople), to think of networking in a new light. Networking opportunities, whether they be user groups, career fairs, industry conferences, or standing in line at the local grocery store should be boiled down to one goal - Get the other person to view you as a generous individual.
We love generous people. From big-hearted philanthropists to gift-bestowing grannies to Santa Claus, the idea of someone giving without requiring something in return is an indicator of a good soul, a kind spirit, and in most cases, a very effective icebreaker. The way to do so is simple to say;
"My name is Jim Durbin, and I'd like to know what I can help you with."
Now, you should use your own name, but this little sentence will change the way you view networking events. When you approach someone, think of your goal as finding a way to help them. Give them advice, a number, a name, a website. Introduce them to someone else you met. Offer to get them a drink. Do anything that will make their lives easier and help them fulfill their goals. It doesn't have to be earth-shattering, but it does have to be sincere. The benefit of sincerely wanting to help people is that you gain, both in personality and stature, when you adopt a giving attitude. And in most cases, the cost of giving is small, and the impact, much bigger.
You can't go through life giving and not have it affect you. This is the best part of the exercise. The intangible benefits of helping other people gain you the advantages that you hoped to procure by networking in the first place, but not in a tit-for-tat manner. You're building a network of good will that helps them. Just as profit is created from raw materials through the exchange of goods, benefit is generated in excess of the cost through successful networking, which means everyone who chooses to participate, wins.
This manner of thinking is counterintuitive, but correct. And for those who are scratching their heads, the idea of generousity does not apply to your entire life. Giving away all you earn or your services or time for free is a quick route to the poorhouse. The principle of giving in networking only applies to small cost, large impact decisions.
So be generous. Learn to help others. Pass around names. Take the time to give numbers. Actually call your contacts and tell them to talk to the person you offered to help. Send the email from your phone while standing there.
Take the focus off your needs and put it on others, and you'll find that networking boosts your energy and productivity, instead of being another chore you slog through. To a stingy man, the world is a window to be closed, keeping what is yours and preventing others from taking it. To a generous man, the world beckons like an open doorway, promising riches, excitement, and pleasure the rest of his day. Networking isn't just about finding leads, or job prospects, or people who can help you. It's about improving your social skills, gaining critical knowledge, and branding yourself as a go-to candidate. Take the focus off yourself, and you will find that people respond to good will.