Brené Brown defines connection as “the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and then derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” I’m extremely embarrassed to be kicking off with a quote, but here we are.
But seriously, how utterly human is this concept of connection as described by the utterly over-quoted Brené? Sustenance, of the tangible and intangible variety, is literally essential to life–we need to connect, like we need food and water.
So how do we get this delicious, juicy sustenance? How do we connect? There are the connections that come naturally, like those between family members and partners, best friends, and close colleagues; and then there are the connections you have to go out and forge: the relationships that simply wouldn’t exist if you didn’t put effort into creating them.
You may ask “Okay, so why bother? That doesn’t sound fun and I have a lot of Instagram stories to catch up on.” Well, folks, that is what we call networking, and building your network is also how you build your success. Let’s be real for a minute: none of us go to networking events to “make new friends.” Don’t get me wrong, there are people I’ve met over the years that have become some of my nearest and dearest–but that’s just icing on the cake. We network to get and win business, plain and simple.
If I’m honest, I’ll admit that I wish that weren’t so. I wish we could all just work hard and do a great job and make lots of money and live happily ever after. Networking can have a bit of a slimy reputation after all–images of ill-fitted suits and sweaty handshakes. But if you don’t get your name out there– if you don’t create a relationship that turns into trust that turns into a booked job based on that trust–how will you ever have the opportunity to show others how hard you work and how great of a job you can do.
But as an inspirational posted reads: “Networking is building sincere relationships based on mutual generosity.”
How lovely is that? The image this quote evokes is such the opposite of those shitty suits and icky handshakes. It’s about real human connection that turns into material gains. And It’s not just generosity of revenue either–it’s generosity of ideas, of inspiration to do better and be better. It’s generosity of time and wisdom, where people share what they’ve learned so that you don’t make the same mistakes they did. It’s generosity of passion, where you can see the events industry under a whole new lens. And yeah, the money is nice too.
Dune Interaction. Photo courtesy Pinch Food Design.
Over the last 18 months, as the world became exponentially more digital, the need for physical, human connection became that much more apparent. We could have gone the other way–the landscape could have changed completely, we could still be on our couches, eating Double Stuf Oreos, and engaging in virtual content. But here you are, reading this, raring to go–raring to re-ignite your network.
So let’s go. Let’s switch gears a little bit. And let’s get real: we all need them after a year plus of networking with our reflections.
That’s it. That’s the whole point. Just don’t be mean and people will like you!
Be genuine. Be yourself.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking–I definitely can’t be myself–I’m an absolute weirdo. But you know what’s just a fact? We’re all absolute weirdos. Think about how weird human beings are. We’re these weird sacks of flesh and bone that have a million tiny electrical currents firing up top that somehow create a condition that allows us to drive and write and tell jokes and fall in love. So what if those jokes don’t always land!
But we are human beings. We’re complicated and interesting, and every single one of us has something super special going on inside. And if you show that, if you show that genuinely special part of yourself to another person, they’ll be able to see it through any weird. And maybe they’ll feel a little less weird themselves while they’re at it.
Repeat and remember names.
A person's own name, to that person, is the sweetest and most important sound in any language. And don’t just remember the name of the person you’re talking to, but make an effort to remember the name of their partner, kiddo, pet as well. I will never forget the time a few years back when I asked a woman how her daughter Jane was. And her daughter was absolutely named Samantha. Seriously, I will never forget this roughly 30 seconds of my life. In fact, I’ve thought about it 300 times since! Repeat. And remember.
Be sensitive in your greetings and questions.
Even a simple “how are you” is more of a loaded query these days and it’s important to be mindful that everyone’s experience has been different as of late.
And in that vein...
Listen to hear people.
Don’t just listen to respond. You’ll quickly get the sense if your new contact would love to tell you all about the bread she baked and the couple she had to reschedule four whole times, or if she’d prefer to skip over the heartache the last year has brought to so many, and instead look to the future.
This advice holds true for listening to the wisdom of those that you meet as well. You may be incredibly knowledgeable in your field, but there is no person on earth that doesn’t have more to learn. The people in the rooms I keep mentioning are probably some of the best in the business–you all have so much to share with each other–but if you’re not listening, if you’re just waiting for your turn to talk, you’ll never level up. It’s just that simple.
Be confident in your own experience.
You are one of those “best in the business” people I mentioned! You have so much to offer and if you’re generous with your little nuggets of brilliance, that generosity will be repaid.
Make eye contact.
That’s all I got on that one!
I know–that’s a scary word. Terrifying prospect. But it doesn’t have to be. Okay, hear me out. Yes, vulnerability can mean opening yourself up to pain. I mean, that’s the literal definition. I looked it up. It can mean opening yourself up to judgment. You’re sharing something about yourself–with someone you met at a cocktail party. I don’t really want to make the expected point that sharing deep and personal parts of yourself can open you up to deeper and more meaningful relationships, yada yada yada, you know all that–I want to take a slightly different route.
Being vulnerable also means you just get to like stuff. You get to be excited about stuff. And you get to meet other people that like and are excited about the same things.
Spoon Pop-Up. Photo courtesy Pinch Food Design.
So, you and your future industry colleague do find each other. You were super nice and super yourself and oh so vulnerable–but now what? What happens next? This may sound a little strange, but when a conversation ends, I recommend that you take a moment to write down some interesting things you learned about your new buddy.
I know it seems formal, but trust me, writing things down doesn’t mean you were any less real about your desire to bond with your new contact–it just means you actually care to remember what makes them,
Now, fast forward to the morning after the event, you’re still riding high, amazed at how well all my advice worked. Now’s the time to get on social and follow your new friends. DM or email that it was great to meet them and you so look forward to hanging out again. Call out something from the event and remind them that you guys clicked.
There’s also a world in which you didn’t click with that amazing planner or photographer or designer, but you absolutely know that you would make so much professional magic together. Sometimes you need to partner an event, to be onsite for 16 hours in the sun, hauling back and forth from ceremony to cocktails and making sure the wine is chilled to exactly 42 degrees, before realizing that you actually have a lot in common.
In both cases, I beseech you: come right out and ask for the coffee date. As I said before, no one at the party was there to make friends–there’s no need to maintain a pretense otherwise.
Before your next meeting with that person, review their dossier, and come into the conversation with a genuine interest in hearing more. In between chats about your respective pet peeves, favorite restaurants, and weirdest quarantine memory, you’ll naturally find the time to share and align over your professional passions. Have a story in mind that you can use to explain why you’ve chosen to do what you do–what experiences in life have driven your desires and goals.
Now go and share yours with each other.