Can I tell you a secret? I don’t enjoy networking.
I really should enjoy networking. I’m an extrovert. I love socialising and my passion is bringing people together. I’ve spent my whole life playing team sports, and was elected social secretary of my university rugby team. I’ve had a 20 year career in media, working in agencies creating and growing teams. Hell, I’ve even got a GSCE in Drama to help me 'perform' and work the room.
I’ve tried to enjoy networking. It really irks me that I don't, because I love meeting new people and building relationships. But I've finally worked out why networking has never worked for me. My expectations of networking are unrealistic.
This is what I expect networking to deliver – and why my experience so often falls short.
1. Intelligent conversation
I love making conversation. But not superficial conversation. I find most of the topics raised at networking events dull: small-talk about work, the state of the economy or worse-still, the mess that is UK politics. I love meeting new people and making new connections, but I want to get to know them - what makes them tick, what keeps them awake at night, who their role models are and why, how they believe they can make their lives - and the lives of others - better. I want to learn something I didn't know before I arrived. When you get to a certain stage in your career you actually want to remember everyone in your LinkedIn network and you want quality, not quantity. Life's just too short not to be talking to intelligent, interesting people. It's one of the reasons why this country gal chooses to live in a big city: diversity of thinking.
2. Attentive and inspiring people
Most people you meet at a networking event aren't genuinely interested in finding out about each other. As leadership guru Stephen R Covey says: "Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply". At networking events there is too much talking and not enough listening. And, being frank, unless you are invited into a small, intimate collective of senior business leaders with decades of experience, there isn't much inspiration to glean from the room. The really inspirational leaders aren't at networking events. They're too busy focussing on their need to self-actualise, as Maslow would have us do, or making the world a better place.
3. Connection that will lead to wanting to make something happen
Most people think you can attend one networking event, leave with a handful of new contacts, and win one or two new clients (or whatever the desired business outcome) by the end of the month. Real life doesn't work like that. And that's an unrealistic conversion rate. Establishing rapport, deep connection and trust takes lashings of social glue, a sense of camaraderie and months of dedicated face time. That's not networking, that's building a partnership.
4. Calm and creativity
Why do we find networking stressful? It's not as though my stress-response system is alerting to me a tiger lurking behind the pillar as I enter the room, and yet my heart I can feel the adrenaline and cortisol levels rising. Where are the lightbulbs flickering? The sparks of innovation flying across the room? Networking events are, for the most part, SO DULL! Oh I wish I could feel inspired to come away and be better in business.
So what’s an alternative to networking? A place to commune with inspiring business people, have intelligent conversation, feel a sense of calm, build deep connections, learn, and come away with a sense of belonging and a buzz of excitement for what great things we might achieve together?
I am sure these places exist; and in 2016 I created another: it is called The Intelligencia Club. Why not come join us and then please tell me if it meets your expectations too.
Join me as I host The Intelligencia Club, an exclusive dining and development club for curious, bold and inspirational business leaders. For details of forthcoming events click here.