Do you strike up a conversation with the professional, interesting looking couple on the next table at the restaurant? Do you ask the man in the “Nobody is perfect…except lawyers” t-shirt at the beach what his most profound experiences with the law have been? Probably not. Net”work”ing, sounds like work, so we lose great opportunities to network while having fun. Let’s take this paradigm shift from the top; what is networking, really?

What is Networking?

Networking is probably one of the most abused words in the professional sphere. It’s not about amassing a prized collection of business cards, then resolutely getting on with the task of cold-calling and preying on them. Networking is about interacting genuinely with people; developing relationships and contacts, primarily to exchange information and value.

The first requirement for networking is to become a great listener, someone so easy to talk to and ever so interesting to listen to. Think about yourself as a friendly, curious person who wants to get to know about people and what makes them tick, not someone trying to get something from them or sell to them. The art of networking is about developing interest, developing relationships and contacts that are mutually beneficial in the future. Don’t look at networking as a take, take, take or this creepy exercise where you meet someone, get to know them and immediately latch on for the sole purpose of getting something from them. Who on earth wants to be treated like that? Instead, think about networking as building your universal circle of friends. Just focus on making friends and thinking about what you can learn and give, not take!

Fun places to network

When you start thinking of networking more in terms of building mutually beneficial friendships, you find that the spaces for networking increase exponentially. Now you don’t have to wait till you are in a stuffy room filled with suits before you can “network”. Please note that mutually beneficial here is not the same as give and take. Do not network with the mindset of “I’m going to give you this so I can take that from you”. This is friendship, not bartering. Please get out of market mode my friend! ?

Restaurants

Food is such a unifying factor that it has formed the basis for many friendships. So next time you’re out at a restaurant, and you see someone ordering that dish that makes you want to send yours back, you’ve found common ground. Say hi when you can!

Movies

Everyone loves a good movie. What’s better than to escape current reality with its bills and to-dos and slide effortlessly into a world where people fly and dodge a thousand bullets? The popcorn queue at the movies is basically a line full of people that have at least one thing in common with you. Make friends on the way in. Just don’t try to talk to them during the movie. Shh! ?

Bars

Say you’re a professional, looking to blow off some steam, and you’re in a bar close to the office on a Friday night…. Wouldn’t you say the chances of finding someone similar are pretty good? Start mingling and chatting away!!

Park

A park is a nice place to network. Most people at the park are happy for meaningful connections while they relax. Before you approach someone, overcome your fear of rejection, be ready to be rebuffed, especially if you approach because you recognize the person, most famous people want to be anonymous when they’re trying to relax at the park.

Rules for networking

  • Networking while having fun is great, but we need to remember there are etiquette rules in place to protect people from uncomfortable and unpleasant experiences. Use these rules for networking while having fun:
  • Don’t ask personal questions: Being removed from professional settings doesn’t give permission for prying into other people’s lives. Keep your questions civil enough to encourage interaction.
  • Show true interest: Or leave people alone.
  • Don’t be a vulture: Don’t use a few words shared at a social event as permission to start circling people at work.
  • Be willing to offer information about yourself: You are neither playing 21 questions nor digging for information gold.
  • Keep it light: Keep the conversation light and hearty. Try to steer away from polarizing or upsetting topics like politics or religion.
  • Be honest and direct: It’s not a bad idea to mention why the person caught your attention. It may throw up what you have in common and make them more willing to have a conversation.
  • Put yourself in the other person’s shoes: If you were lying back with your eyes closed, trying to take a nap, would you be very receptive of an invitation to a lively chat about the economy?
  • Don’t stalk people: That makes your approach seem shady/ dodgy and might make them feel unsafe.
  • If you won’t add to the nice time they are having, don’t subtract from it. Enough said!
  • Know when to leave well enough alone: Pay attention to body language and recognize when it’s time to bow out of the conversation.

Useful Conversation Starters

So, how do you start these conversations:

  • Hi, I just love this place. I just discovered it by accident. How did you find it?
  • Hi, where’s a good place to eat around here?
  • Hey, did you hear about (something in the news or trending)?
  • You’re reading (book/author)? Me too! I’ve been looking for someone to discuss it with. Do you mind?
  • Ask them about something they are holding or doing. (a drink, book, food)

So, there you have it; go forth and network while you have fun. Just remember to do it right and keep the fun alive!