It’s often said that developers and computer types don’t have many social graces or inter-personal skills; but I’m sure we all know that’s more caricature than fact.
However, even if we’re more on the extroverted than introverted end of the scale, we can find it difficult, even intimidating to get out there and meet people to press the flesh, if you will.
I won’t lie, while being quite the social butterfly myself, in any new setting, I still have feelings of nervousness, awkwardness, and generally shyness.
However, I’m also a freelancer, and if you don’t get out there when this is your occupation, you’re not going to get very far.
As a result, I’ve gotten out of my comfort zone on a regular basis and want to share with you some of what I’ve learned, so that it’s hopefully easier for you than it has been for me.
When you’re an expat far from home, meeting people from all over the world, these platforms, aside from email, are the only viable way for regularly staying in touch.
They’re really effective at bridging the hurdles which timezones and distance bring. In addition, they allow you to multiply your ability to contact new people. But despite the simplicity of the platforms, something about them, for me, is missing.
Online connections are fantastic, and you can make them from almost anywhere now if you have a tablet or smartphone. But making connections offline always seems more effective, more genuine. The contacts made there seem to last longer and go deeper.
Online can be perfectly fine, but you miss out on the body language, the gestures, all the nuances, which really help you get to know someone properly. I wonder if you’ve had the same experience.
So to help you improve your offline networking efforts, and to help you push the boundaries of your comfort zone, I’m going to show you six networking techniques you can start using today. I can’t promise you’ll be a master by the end of it, but you’ll definitely have more options.
1. Use Co-Working Spaces
This won’t apply equally to everyone, but a great way to start networking is to find and attend a local co-working space. If you’re not familiar with them, in-effect they’re open plan offices where you can pay, either on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, to make use of the facilities.
They offer desks, WIFI access, good coffee, quiet rooms, board rooms and office accessories, such as printers, monitors, and keyboards.
They allow you to get out of a home office and professionally get in the vibe of the city in which you live, for usually about US $20 a day. What’s more, you’re instantly surrounding yourself with other professionals.
This can include freelancers and businesses who either don’t need an office or aren’t big enough to fully cover the costs. You’ve instantly opened up the door to networking and business possibilities.
But just because you’ve opened the door, that doesn’t mean that the proverbial manna from heaven will fall, landing opportunities in your lap for you to choose from. Just like in school, university and your local sporting clubs, you have to participate.
I don’t mean walking up to anyone and everyone, introducing yourself and shoving your business card in their hand. Nobody appreciates this kind of approach!
Instead, take your time, get the lay of the land, acknowledge people who you come in contact with, nod and say good morning or good afternoon.
Gradually, you’ll progress from the new person to “one of the regulars”. When an opportunity for a conversation comes, take advantage of it. I did this myself just recently at my local, Coworking Nürnberg. I’ll keep it quick.
I was looking a bit lost attempting to work the cappuccino machine (one of those large, expensive, models) and the owner/founder of the space was there. He helped me out and, seeing that I was a new face, made a cappuccino for himself and invited me to talk about who I was, what I did for a living, and why I’d started coming there.
I said I was a freelance writer and software developer, at which point he remembered that there was a company in the co-working space that could use both these services. Cutting a long story short, he made a personal introduction for me to the company.
I then told them what I do, what I’ve done up until now and the relationship has steadily been growing ever since. An amazing opportunity, just for the cost of a coffee and some time. This type of experience isn’t uncommon — but you have to put yourself out there!
2. Exchanging Business Cards
This point leads on naturally from the last one, but it’s not always necessary. If you’ve struck up a conversation with someone then, often, it’s appropriate to exchange business cards — you do have them don’t you?
We’re all busy people, with loads of work to do, which for the best of intentions, makes it difficult to remember everyone you meet, let alone their contact details.
By having professional business cards, readily available, you can keep on their radar, without seeming pushy.
3. Following Up
This is absolutely key. If there’s anything I’ve learned from my professional career, this has to be the most important — follow up. Let’s assume that you’ve had an opportunity like the one I related above.
Let’s say that you’ve said you were going to follow up and send them something, such as your CV, provide a sample of work or something similar. Make sure you actually do it within the time you’ve agreed.
If you don’t: You look unreliable. If you do it late: You look unreliable. If you do it in less time than you promised: You look like a professional and you keep the relationship growing and blooming.
In my experience, relationships don’t take a lot, just a few little things — but you have to remember to manage them properly. Be polite, be professional, follow up.
4. Making Small Talk
This is one thing so many people avoid, whether because they think it’s irrelevant, childish, pointless, or just too damn difficult. They close themselves off from this aspect of interaction. Then there’s other people who are quite enthusiastic about it, too enthusiastic.
I’m sure you’ve had an experience with this kind of person. They’re in your face, talk, talk, talk, talk. They’re all about them, sharing their entire life story, talking about things which may have no bearing on your relationship.
In short, they’re pushing you away, instead of attracting you. Don’t be this person. Small talk is simple when done right. My grandfather had a simple rule — we have two ears and one mouth, we should use them proportionately.
When you or the other person have initiated the conversation, for the most part, let it flow naturally, while keeping it on topic. I don’t mean it quite as laissez fair as that sounds.
Do your part to guide it and keep it on professional topics, sharing thoughts, experiences and ideas; just don’t go over the top. Like you would with your friends, if you see a topic or the conversation as a whole isn’t working, consider winding it up and moving on.
At the same time, make it meaningful for both of you, not just you. Be observant of the other person’s body language, eye contact and gestures. Are they engaging or just paying lip service? What does your body language, level of eye contact and gestures convey about you?
Make sure you’re not dominating the conversation, but at the same time, don’t just sit and listen. Give input, share your thoughts and experience. If you click, you’ll be remembered.
Toastmasters International is a nonprofit educational organization that operates clubs worldwide for the purpose of helping members improve their communication, public speaking, and leadership skills.
I’m a member of my local club here in Nuremberg because I was looking for exactly these skills. My thinking was this: I can’t lose. I get involved in a new group, meet new people, likely professionals similar to myself, and improve my professional skills in the process.
You never know who you’re going to meet in these groups. I’ve gotten fully involved in the group and started giving speeches, getting better all the time.
As I do this, I expand my repertoire of skills. As I meet people now, I can present myself ever more professionally, leading to further opportunities.
6. Be Patient
In my own experience, anything worthwhile takes time and that’s a good think. Because you know what it took to build it, you can repeat it, and you also respect it.
So take time to build your personal skills, your professional relationships and your professional network. As the saying goes, it won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.
Now – Over to you
What networking methods have you tried? How do you manage to meet people on a regular basis? Share them with us in the comments.
Matthew is a freelance technical writer helping businesses win over developers by creating documentation developers need, to really use their platforms to the full. He's also the editor of Master Zend Framework, where you can learn everything there is to know about Zend Framework.