04 November 2009

Networking Without the Ass-clowns

I hate networking events. I hate coming home at the end of an evening feeling dirty - not quite sure why, but convinced that I have somehow contributed to evil in the world. Don’t get me wrong, I love meeting new people and hearing their stories - I’m fascinated by other people, their experiences, and ideas.

That is not, however, what I’ve experienced at networking events in the past. My views are no doubt colored by spending too much time at networking events with lawyers - many of whom are missing critical social skills. A legal networking event usually consists of tipsy jackasses trying hard to puff themselves up, rather than making a real connection with someone they might have something in common with. The goals are: to collect as many names and cards as possible, to make at least one person feel inferior, to tell an exaggerated tale of your latest win to as many people as possible, and to set up a lunch with a partner at a bigger and better firm than the one you’re currently at.

You can quickly spot the lawyer that has read books on how to build networking skills: she is shooting off rapid fire questions. Unfortunately, the next question is being fired before the listener even gets a chance to respond to the last question. This is her attempt at showing interest in the person she is talking to. All the time, though, her eyes are darting around the room looking for her next victim.

Most lawyers at these legal networking events don’t seem to understand that the best way to build a beneficial network is not to be manipulative, not to make shameful attempts at humor or wit, not to sell yourself as the master litigator - but to be nice. It’s as simple as that. And, you actually have to be interested in someone other than yourself - hard to pull off for far too many lawyers.

I dreaded my first beer industry event, I assumed that all networking was the same. It’s not. There are people out there interested in other people’s stories, rather than how he or she can be used for career advancement. People who want to create lasting relationships, rather than collect a card. It’s like meeting fellow travelers on the road: the conversation is almost always good, the primary goal is not career advancement, and you go to sleep looking forward to the next meeting.

The goal of creating a network should be to make friends, real friends. Friends with whom you can share your interests. Friends to whom you can reveal something significant about yourself, and who can reveal something significant about themselves to you. Meeting people with these goals doesn’t feel like a networking event, at least not what I associate with networking events.

The thrill that I may never again have to attend a networking event with puffed-up ass-clowns confirms my decisions over the past year to follow my version of Plan B.
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