Happy International Networking Week!

We’ve talked a lot about networking here at Zen, and covered a lot of the traditional ideas:

  • Use social media to prime your contacts before an event.
  • Don’t skip anything.
  • Don’t hang around with only the people you know.
  • Use the event organizers to help introduce you to people.

And more.

But these are fairly straightforward, right?

What if we turned networking on its head and gave you a few totally unconventional ways to network? These aren’t things you’d necessarily have  to advertise to anyone that you were doing, but they would challenge you out of a networking rut if you’re used to attending a certain organization’s events and talking to the same people, or networking in the same way. 

Network by Characteristic

First challenge – network by characteristic. What I mean by this is pick one thing at each event that you go to, and use that as your networking key. For example, we already know everyone almost always wears black to cocktail receptions. So what if you tell yourself that you’ll introduce yourself to everyone who is wearing even a little bit of red? That means anyone with a red tie, red handkerchief, red dress, red shoes, etc. is someone that you target as a person to introduce yourself and get to know.

You don’t have to tell them why you’re introducing yourself, but it changes up the way that you look at the group you’re walking into. Some other ideas:

  • Pick a color, as in the above example, and introduce yourself to everyone wearing that color. If there is no one, change the color, or too many, limit it to five people.
  • Choose a distinguishing feature, such as glasses or red hair or people over a certain height.
  • If there’s a specialty drink being served during cocktails with a distinguishable color, introduce yourself to everyone who chose to grab a glass of that.

Not every one of these people is going to be relevant to your area of expertise or practice, but you never know when you’re going to meet someone really interesting or helpful by challenging yourself to change up the way you network. And you may have more fun because you’re networking in a different way!

Network by Course

This idea will require a partner and networking during a meal, but if you’re a solo networker, you can conscript someone you meet during the cocktail reception beforehand.

The idea here is that you eat at one table for your first course/entree and network with the group at that table, and then switch with your partner before dessert, so that you network with an entirely new group for the final course. There are some organizations that will actually arrange these networking types of meals, and while it can be complicated (and tough for introverts after they’ve finally settled in with one group!), it exposes you to a broader audience of contacts over the course of one meal.

You should definitely let your table mates know in advance what you plan to do, or they may get offended when you suddenly disappear, but assure them that they’ll be getting a suitable replacement with the addition of your networking partner. Come prepared with a few stories from your own table to share with the new group, and ready to listen to what they’ve been discussing as well!

Network by Proxy

This is another networking activity that requires pairs, but the key here is that you should be networking with someone you’ve met only recently.

A good rule of thumb that I’ve always been taught is that when you’re introducing two people, you offer an interesting or useful fact about each person as you introduce them. For example – “Bob, this is Mary. Mary is the CEO for a Fortune 500 company that makes widgets. Mary, this is Bob. Bob is a partner at Smith & Smith law firm, where he’s an intellectual property lawyer.”

What I’m suggesting is that you take that a step further. After meeting another person and spending some time with them, you get to know them and their practice a little. Why not become THEIR advocate instead of your own (and vice versa)? Offer to network by proxy.

The idea is this – you walk around together introducing each other to new people, and describe each other’s practices to those new people. “Steve, this is Bob. He’s an intellectual property lawyer with Smith & Smith, and he just tried this patent infringement case that you would find fascinating because…”

Rather than extolling your own virtues, you’re promoting someone else – you’re making that person much more interesting to your audience (and they are doing the same for you), and you’re all becoming more memorable to each other, because no one is talking about themselves. It’s challenging, but it’s an interesting concept!

Those are just a few unconventional ways to tackle networking, to keep it from becoming to staid an activity. What suggestions do you have for shaking up your networking?