Not a fan of awkward silences, overpriced event tickets, or that ever-growing pile of business cards that’s just collecting dust in the corner? You are definitely not alone.
Fortunately, expanding your professional network doesn’t have to mean attending structured events that can take up anywhere from one to three hours of your busy schedule. Because ain't nobody got time for that.
Some of the best networking opportunities can present themselves in the most laid-back of situations, which tends to foster relationships more organically. Here are six of my favourite places to build relationships naturally, each of which has played an important role in growing my network and getting exposed to opportunities:
1. The lunchroom
We often focus so much on networking outside of our organization that we sometimes forget how important it is to get to know our fellow coworkers. Especially if you’re new to a company, skip leaving to eat at a nearby café or eating at your desk, and instead bring your lunch to the lunchroom so you can get to know who you work with. The best part is that you don’t have to talk only business, so you can get to know your peers on a more personal level – which tends to encourage a better business relationship.
2. The elevator
It’s all too easy to keep to yourself in the elevator and bury your nose in your phone or keep your earbuds in – which in turn makes it easier to miss an opportunity to make a connection. If you’re only going up or down a few floors, having a conversation of any depth is tricky, as it’s cut short. But when you’re heading up to/ down from the 25th floor, you’ve got plenty of time to smile and say hello. Make sure you have that elevator pitch prepared and practiced – the next time you ride the elevator, it may be with your CEO.
3. Fitness classes
People generally aren’t into making friends when they’re sweating it out at the gym, but there’s something different about a fitness class where everyone is doing the same thing. Take those few minutes before the activity gets going, or the walk from the room to the change rooms afterwards, to introduce yourself and chat a bit.
4. Volunteer events and organizations
Donating your time to a worthy cause is a sure-fire way to meet like-minded individuals in a friendly and comfortable setting. Whether you’re manning a registration booth, helping out with paperwork or serving up food or drinks, use the informal networking opportunity to see if you can connect with your fellow volunteers on a professional level later.
5. The coffee date
Grabbing a quick coffee with someone is one of the best forms of informal networking. It’s also possibly the most time-efficient. It’s hard to carve out an evening to attend a two-hour networking event or miss work for a breakfast seminar, but you can pretty much always find 20-30 minutes to grab a cup of joe.
You might not have considered it as a networking tool, but Twitter is a fantastic forum for making connections. When you have some free time, run a Twitter search for people in your industry, and see who comes up. Give them a follow, trade some tweets back and forth. You can remain virtual friends if that’s where your comfort level is at, but if all parties are open to it, arrange to have coffee and continue the conversation offline.
What is your favourite informal way/place to network?