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Redefining Networking: Building Meaningful Connections with Peers

Redefining Networking: Moving Beyond the Handshake and Business Card Exchange

Networking – it’s one of the most overused and yet, simultaneously, undervalued words in the professional world. It’s a word that brings to mind images of sterile corporate events, awkward small talk, and the obligatory “networking” handshake and exchange of business cards, with little real connection or intention behind it.

For many of us, traditional networking events are a necessary evil – a box that must be checked in order to climb the professional ladder. But what if we rethought what networking could be?

What if, instead of focusing on building our networks, we focused on building real relationships with our peers?

Meaningful Connections Over Quantity

At its core, networking is about building meaningful connections with others. Yet, too often, it becomes a numbers game.

We focus on how many business cards we can collect or how many LinkedIn connections we can accumulate, without a thought to the actual quality of those connections. But what if we shifted our mindset?

What if we saw networking events as opportunities to make genuine connections with our peers, rather than just opportunities to sell ourselves or our products? What if we made it our goal to leave each event having made at least one new friend or acquaintance?

This approach may take more time and effort than the traditional “handshake and business card” approach, but the rewards could be greater. By building real, long-lasting relationships with our peers, we create a network of individuals who not only know our skills and abilities but who also care about us as people.

These are the connections that can lead to collaborations, mentorship opportunities, and even new job offers.

Creating Connections Through Friendship

What does this type of networking look like in practice? One great example comes from the story of Mediabistro – the media industry networking and job board website that got its start in the late 1990s.

Mediabistro was the brainchild of Laurel Touby – a freelance writer who, like many of us, was tired of the sterile and impersonal networking events in her industry. She wanted to create a space where media professionals could connect on a deeper level, forming real friendships and collaborations.

Laurel put her plan into action by hosting regular dinner parties in her New York City apartment. These dinner parties weren’t formal networking events – there were no name tags or business card exchanges – but rather casual affairs where friends and acquaintances could get to know each other on a personal level.

Through these dinner parties, Laurel formed deep connections with her peers – including individuals from CosmoGIRL! and Hearst Magazines. These friendships eventually led to the creation of Mediabistro, which launched in 1999 and quickly became a go-to resource for media professionals looking to connect with one another.

The Power of Collaboration

Laurel’s story illustrates the power of collaboration that can arise from real, meaningful connections. By building friendships with her peers, she was able to create a platform that brought together media professionals from all over the world.

But Mediabistro wasn’t just a product of Laurel’s friendships – it was the result of collaboration between Laurel and her peers. In the early days, the site was run out of Laurel’s apartment, with her friends pitching in to help with everything from website design to event planning.

This type of collaboration is only possible if we build real relationships with our peers – relationships that go beyond the standard “networking” handshake. By doing so, we create a community of individuals who care about one another and are eager to help each other succeed.

Moving Beyond the Press Club

Of course, not every attempt at creating an alternative networking event will be a success. Laurel herself admits that her attempts to create a similar space at the Press Club – a New York City establishment for journalists – were largely unsuccessful.

The Press Club events felt too much like traditional networking events – they were stuffy, formal affairs that didn’t allow for the type of casual conversation and connection-building that Laurel’s dinner parties did. By trying to fit her alternative networking approach into a traditional networking mold, Laurel missed the mark.

But despite Laurel’s missteps, her story still provides valuable lessons for those of us looking to build deeper connections with our peers. Her success with Mediabistro – and the deep friendships she formed along the way – are a testament to the power of genuine connection and collaboration.

Redefining Networking

So how can we redefine networking for ourselves? How can we approach professional events and opportunities with a mindset of building real, meaningful connections with our peers?

It starts with focusing less on the quantity of our connections and more on the quality. We should approach networking events with the goal of forming at least one real friendship or acquaintance.

We should prioritize conversation over the exchange of business cards, taking the time to get to know our peers on a personal level. Above all, we should remember that networking isn’t a one-time event – it’s an ongoing process.

By showing up to events, following up with our connections, and finding ways to collaborate with our peers, we build a network of individuals who are not just acquaintances, but true friends and allies. Traditional networking may have its place in the professional world, but it’s time to move beyond the handshake and business card exchange.

By redefining what networking means to us, we can create deep, meaningful connections with our peers – connections that will help us succeed both personally and professionally. Embracing Genuine Connections: Finding Joy and Opportunity in Networking

Many of us dread networking events, seeing them as little more than awkward, uncomfortable affairs where we’re forced to make small talk and collect business cards.

But what if we reframed our approach to networking? What if we saw these events as opportunities to align ourselves with interesting people, connect on a deeper level, and possibly even find unexpected opportunities?

The Importance of Interesting People

When we attend networking events, we tend to gravitate towards people who are in our industry or who can offer us something a job, an introduction, a potential business opportunity. But what if we shifted our mindset to focus on aligning ourselves with interesting people, regardless of their industry or job title?

We are often surprised by the opportunities that can arise from connecting with individuals we would never have thought to reach out to otherwise. The marketer who ends up collaborating with a hairstylist on a social media campaign they met at a charity event, for example, or the writer who meets a scientist at a conference and ends up getting valuable insights for a new book.

By connecting with interesting people who share our values and passions, we open ourselves up to a much wider range of opportunities. We learn about different industries, perspectives, and approaches – all of which can help to broaden our horizons and expand our networks.

Removing the Stress From Networking

Many of us approach networking with a sense of dread, fearing that we’ll end up standing alone in a corner, desperately trying to make small talk with strangers. But what if networking could be fun?

By reframing networking events as opportunities to have fun and enjoy ourselves, we can remove the stress and anxiety that often accompanies these events. Rather than seeing them as a chore, we can look forward to them as opportunities to socialize with interesting people, try new things, and have memorable experiences.

There are many ways to make networking events more enjoyable. One approach is to focus on events and activities that align with our interests.

If we’re into hiking, for example, we might look for outdoor networking events or join a hiking club where we can connect with other professionals who share our love of nature. Another approach is to attend events where we know people.

By going with a friend or colleague, we can reduce the pressure of having to make small talk with strangers and instead focus on enjoying our time together. We can also see these events as opportunities to deepen relationships with people we already know – catching up, sharing a laugh, and building bonds.

The Potential for Unexpected Opportunities

When we connect with interesting people at networking events, we open ourselves up to unexpected opportunities that we might not have even known existed. These opportunities can range from collaborations and joint projects to job offers, mentorship opportunities, or even new friendships.

If we approach networking events with an open mind and an eagerness to connect with interesting people, we never know what opportunities may arise. By focusing on forming genuine connections with the people we meet, rather than just trying to sell ourselves or our products, we invite new and exciting possibilities into our lives.

About the Author and Her Book, The Big Life

Ann Shoket, former editor-in-chief of Seventeen Magazine, is the author of The Big Life: Embrace the Mess, Work Your Side Hustle, Find a Monumental Relationship, and Become the Badass Babe You Were Meant to Be. Her book offers practical advice and inspiration for millennial women who are navigating their careers, relationships, and personal lives. In The Big Life, Ann shares powerful storytelling, personal anecdotes, and expert advice on how to reach for your biggest dreams and be the badass young woman you aspire to be.

From mastering the art of networking to building strong relationships, Ann provides insights and inspiration for women who want to create a life that is big and meaningful. If you’re looking for practical advice on how to navigate your career, build your network, and cultivate meaningful relationships, The Big Life is a must-read.

And if you want to connect with Ann and other millennial women who are pursuing their dreams, give her a follow on Twitter @annshoket. Networking can often be seen as an unavoidable burden, but by embracing genuine connections with interesting people, focusing on fun, and staying open to unexpected opportunities, it can become an enjoyable and fulfilling experience.

Building meaningful relationships with our peers is key to succeeding both personally and professionally, and focusing on quality over quantity will lead to a strong network of individuals who care about each other and are eager to help one another succeed. By shifting our mindset and focusing on these key takeaways, we can redefine networking and create a world of opportunities.

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