By Hub Islington member host, Rachel Hills
I don’t love networking events. I never know how to pick the right moment to exit a conversation, or how to launch myself into a new one in a crowd of strangers. I don’t own business cards, and the ones I receive from others too often end up decomposing in my wallet before I do anything with them.
And yet, I love the act of networking. I love bringing new people into my circle and connecting them with potential friends and opportunities. I meet strangers for coffee as a matter of hobby. And in June, I helped launch Hub Islington’s curated dinner series, Hub Suppers,which brings together Hub members and interesting outsiders with guests handpicked to fit their individual interests and passions.
A contradiction in terms? Not as much as you might think. It all comes down to how you define the word “networking.”
Most of the time, when we talk about networking, we’re talking about a relationship which is ultimately transactional. We’re talking about scanning the room to identify the most important person in it, and delivering our “elevator pitch” to convince them that we’re interesting enough to have a conversation with.
We are talking about talking to people with the purpose of determining what we might be able to get out of them, and closing the deal as quickly as possible. Even when “networking experts” advise us to focus on what we can give the people we meet rather than what we could get from them, the giving is framed in reference to what we might later receive in return. It’s no wonder so many people avoid anything with the word “networking” in it like the plague.
But I’d like to propose a more genuine, meaningful philosophy of networking. A networking that is less about building connections and more about connecting with people. A networking that is not about what you can get OR what you can give (unless you have something to give that is genuinely beneficial to the other person, in which case, go right ahead – they’ll appreciate it), but about finding a person with whom you can have a really good conversation. A style of networking that isn’t about scrambling to achieve a particular outcome, but about letting time and serendipity do their thing.
This isn’t just about making networking more enjoyable or authentic, although it does go a long way to achieving both of those things. It’s also about making it more effective, based on close observation of how human interaction works, and how relationships grow.
You might get a job lead or a quick gig out of someone you hand a business card to at a networking breakfast, or hunt down during lunch at an industry conference. But when all you’re on the hunt for is a good conversation? You could end up with a conspirator, your biggest cheerleader, the person who will recommend you for your next job, the person who will introduce you to your spouse, or your new favourite brunch buddy.
That’s why at Hub Suppers, we’re focused on introducing you to people whose company we think you’ll enjoy more than anything else. It’s the reason we put so much time into getting to know our guests before the dinners – what you’re working on, what you’re thinking about, what people you’d like to meet. And it’s the reason we put you in what we think is the best environment for making genuine connections: at a long table, with good food, good drinks, and surrounded by fellow guests that have been hand selected for you – CEOs, social innovators, architects, artists, journalists and more. Because we believe that if we can get the people and the setting right, the conversation (and later, the business) will follow.
But here’s the thing. You never know who that next conspirator, cheerleader, or brunch buddy will be. You have to sit back, let go, and let the magic happen. And sign up for the next Hub Suppers, of course.