I hate the term “networking” because my personal connotation is guys in ill-fitting suits trying to shove business cards into your hand while asking mundane questions.
However, colloquially, it does the job of conveying “meeting new people who you may or may not do business with in the future, ultimately resulting in the mutual benefit of knowing each other.”
Nashville is a remarkably accessible city for building a network. I’ve heard that statement from countless transplants from other cities, and while we are far from perfect, I’ve heard dozens of people remark how quickly they were able to meet new folks and make new friends inside their first year here, just by showing up and being nice.
Having been here for 15 years now, I’ve watched Nashville – and our networking – change over time.
Here are my observations and a few tactical items I’ve picked up:
1. Work The Room: Time to get past those awkward intros
Some rooms are awkward, and sometimes people are still trying to figure out if they “fit in.” A while back, I learned to just bite the bullet with something slightly disarming that also breaks from the templated networking room chit-chat.
- "Hey, you all look friendly – can I meet you?"
- "I'm Colton Mulligan, how the hell are ya?" (This works for me, but there’s probably some other style that would work for you that may not involve a cuss word.)
Then if you can, avoid the boilerplate first questions like:
- “Where do you work?” or “What do you do?”
If folks are in a room where they’ve answered that question a dozen times already, it’s far more interesting to ask:
- "What's your favorite part of your job?"
- "What was your best day last month?"
2. Follow Through: Actually reach out to a new contact
I’ve blackballed a few people from any introductions because after making an intro for them, they never followed up, which is just awkward. When you follow up, give them a few bullets on why you want to meet up or what you want to learn.
- “I thought we should get to know each other and see if we could collaborate,” is not a sufficient reason for a meeting.
3. Be Intentional: Have 5 good questions for the person you're meeting.
I had a mentor once whose rule was, “I’ll meet with you whenever, but always send me 3 questions more than 24 hours before so that I can be prepared for our time together.”
The first time we were scheduled to meet, I forgot to send my questions, and he canceled the meeting that morning, saying we could reschedule when I took time to prepare. Ever since then, if I’ve asked for a meeting, I will make sure that I’m always prepared with questions and will normally email them beforehand.
*One major caveat: I’m a white male. I’ve learned from others who don’t have those traits that networking is a much different process for them, and there are a lot of other factors they have to consider. I won’t speak for other parties, which is why this post is just from my own experience. I only learned this by networking with people who don’t look like me and asking them about their experiences.
Colton is FoxFuel’s CEO, but most people know him as “That loud fella who’s not dressed appropriately” in most networking situations. You should take everything in this post with a grain of salt.