So You Think
You Can Network?

Conferencing. Networking. What comes to your mind when you read those words?

Excitement? Ok, I see you, extroverts.

Dread? I see you too, introverts.

Some of us love it. Some of us dread it. Some of us fuel off of it, and some of us hide from it. I like to think of myself as a middle-of-the-spectrum kind of woman. I can be an extrovert at times. I love meeting and talking to new people, attending events, etc. A lot of times these activities fire me up and motivate me. But, I like to say I have an “extrovert gas tank.” When it’s low or empty, I need to go into my introvert mode and refuel.

Although I’m like this, I would always cringe at the thought of networking and conferencing. I was always excited about attending events and hearing from speakers/panels, but it was the networking thing that had be uncomfy.

It wasn’t the fact that I had to talk to people and meet new people, it was the fact that I was so nervous about it. I would question my confidence and get into my head about what I would talk to them about, how I would make the conversation flow smoothly, how I would keep the conversation going, etc. But then as I attended events and my first few conferences with colleagues, I’d see them in action.

I finally realized maybe it’s because I don’t really know how to do it, which is why it makes me so uncomfy.

As a young professional throwing myself into the networking game, I’ve realized that I never really got a full glimpse into what it was like to really network. There’s no class or training course on networking, at least not at my university.

Do people just expect you to know how to do it?

While I’m a big Nike fan and the classic “Just Do It” slogan, it isn’t always the answer to learning something. And besides, networking in college is different. At job fairs and during internships, I was primarily focused on selling myself and my capabilities. Get out in the real world and… I’m lost. Some may argue that it’s still the same, you’re still selling yourself and your company, but I would say otherwise, especially in the marketing industry. While you’re doing a little bit of that, yes, it’s primarily about building relationships first and less about the “sell.”

Here are some learnings I’ve had since kicking off adulting as a werkin woman (and no, I’m not a perfect networker. Everyone has room for growth, #amiright):

1. STOP getting in your head

I get that this sounds easier said than done, but this has been one of my biggest realizations and learnings, so hear me out. I realized I was in my head too much about how I would keep the conversation going, and what I would ask next, that I was only half there in conversations. When I would get out of my own head and genuinely listen, I would usually have questions, instead of my queued up list of questions, or insight into what they were talking about, and POOF, our conversation would flow great!

Obviously, that’s not always the case, so I do have my go-to questions (For me, it’s all things travel. Everyone has some type of travel to talk about!). But when I really listened and stopped worrying about what I was going to say next, how I looked, etc. it made a BIG difference. So, my advice: Just do you, and own it. You are your own worst critic, remember that.

2. Choose your events wisely

But really, don’t go to some random event or generic networking get together just because. Find niche events and networking opportunities hosted by organizations or communities that relate to you, your career and/or your personal interests (and yes, this will take some research). Those generic ones give networking a bad rap. Some of my favorite events, and places to look for events, local to Seattle:

WiT Regatta:  This one honestly changed the networking + conferencing game for me. (It’s not a regular conference, it’s a cool conference!) But really, the sessions at WiT are two-fold. You spend the first hour listening to speakers/panels and the next connecting and having a prompted discussion with those in the crowd (Win X 2!). The next one is coming up at the end of April, check it out. Hello, what made you want to get into tech?

YPOS:  The largest community on the west coast for young professionals just like you? DUH. Hi, what do you do and how can we be friends? (oh and psst, they have a fun anniversary party coming up on March 9th). 

The Riveter:  Female-focused and female founder events. Cha yeah, that’s up my alley. Hello, what inspired you to start your own business?

Create & Cultivate (worldwide events!):  Again with the #womanpower. Hello, I’m searching for a mentor!

The Collective:  A social club for badass adventurers? Yes, please. Hello, what’s your favorite outdoor activity and can I come?

Future For Us:  A community working to accelerate the advancement of women of color? Uhm, sign me up as an ally. Hello, how can I help you reach your goals?

3. This is just a good networking tactic

I was talking to a davies + dixon advisor and I basically said, “I suck at networking. HALP.” And he told me to set a goal for each event I go to. Networking isn’t just about how many business cards you collect or the amount of LinkedIn connections you get. It’s about building meaningful relationships, which means having meaningful conversations. So instead of setting a goal to leave with ten business cards, set a goal to have a meaningful conversation with two people. Quality over quantity, people. And let me reiterate something we should all know—networking is not about giving your best sales pitch. It is about building relationships. And a good relationship is not built at an hour-long event. It is built over time, so it takes continued follow-up action.

With all of this being said, drive each conversation with a purpose. How can you help one another reach your goals or get to where you’re going?


4. Look good, feel good, do good

I basically live by this motto when networking. If I don’t feel confident, then it’s probably already a bust. I dress for success, so I look and feel my best. I also make sure to have enough food in my system (no hangry feelings here), and I try not to be overly caffeinated.

Networking shouldn’t be a pain in the ass, and it shouldn’t be a dreaded task. It should be fun. Don’t overthink it. Set a monthly networking goal and add those events to your calendar, put your fave blazer on and get to it. Note to self and others: You’ll never get better if you don’t challenge yourself!


Kendall Davies
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