The Playground’s Guide To Effective Networking: Which Kid Are You?
You’ve probably heard the startling stats. We fear public speaking more than we fear death.
When it comes to networking, many of us have a similar fear. We become uneasy and anxious because we fear the unknown or we worry that we won’t have the right words to say.
Why do adults struggle so much with networking?
I’m a mum to a three-year-old, Jacob. Umpteen trips to playgroups and playgrounds made me realise how similar playgrounds are to networking events. Parks, soft play areas, birthday parties and kids clubs — environments where children are surrounded by strangers and expected to build relationships, get along and even play together.
There is a lot to learn from children, many of whom seem not to fear much. In this blog, I will describe the likeness of four kinds of children in the playground and who they might be as grown-ups while networking.
From Hating Networking to Loving It
First, let me tell you a little about my networking journey. I transitioned from a nursing career into the business world in 2012. I went from broken bones, blood and bandages to suits, sales and strategy practically overnight! Business networking was new to me and I found it very uncomfortable. I was definitely the person who would collect their name badge and delegate list from the registration table, then feel physically sick at the thought of walking into a room full of strangers and joining conversations.
Over time and with plenty of practice, mentoring and a dose of self-awareness, I have grown to enjoy networking and still do it on a regular basis. I am much better at networking and now I really enjoy it.
Whether you are a senior executive or the founder of a newly formed start-up, networking is a crucial part of growing your support network and building relationships with potential buyers. Since noticing the synergy between children in the playground and adults networking, I have been watching closely and have found some common threads.
Here are four kinds to think about…
Networking Kid: Sideline Sally
This is the child who stays on the sidelines waiting to be asked to join in. At a networking event, this is the person who stands in the corner of the room reading the delegate list or scrolling through their phone, and not joining conversations. They try to look busy but secretly hope that someone will engage them in conversation. This was me in 2012!
Networking Kid: Clingy Callum
This child holds on to his mother’s leg, getting used to his surroundings until he feels he can go it alone. You recognise this person as the networker who wants to enter the room with someone they already know (e.g. a colleague or friend) and sticks with this individual until someone else approaches or they start to feel comfortable enough to talk to other people. Sadly, Clingy Callum might never feel comfortable and will always stick to one person throughout the event!
Networking Kid: Empathetic Eddie
There is usually an empathetic child in the playground. They play well with others but they keep an eye out for anyone on their own. Often, Empathetic Eddie will ask if the child on his own would like to play. This is similar to what I do now. I often look out for the people hanging around the coffee point or standing in the corner waiting to be approached.
Networking Kid: Overbearing Olivia
The overbearing child that clings on to others, not giving them any personal space. I’m sure you’ve met that annoying person at a networking event that doesn’t let you get a word in. They have the ability to talk AT YOU for 30 minutes without coming up for air! I’ve had to politely excuse myself from such conversations and I’m certainly getting better at escaping them now.
It is important for us to think about the type of networker we are and become aware of our own traits and habits. Maybe there is something you can practice to help you develop more effective networking skills.
If you need any help, let me know!
A version of this blog was published on sarahdownsltd.com