How to disrupt networking by going offline

Howard Lewis is an advocate of technology-free social interactions. Here, he looks at the best ways to network without a device.

Business networking in person can feel much more rewarding than hiding behind a screen

Business networking in person can feel much more rewarding than hiding behind a screen

We’ve become so used to doing everything in the digital arena, face-to-face contact seems an intimidating prospect to many. When we’re career climbing or seeking our next big contract, is there a toll for living in a haze of online blinkers? As an advocate of technology-free social interactions, here’s how to regain the forgotten art of networking meaningfully with potential employers, colleagues and new connections.

Put down the phone

What do you spend most of your time looking at on your mobile device? According to Ofcom’s research into mobile device overuse, the majority of adults couldn’t be seen without their smartphone, and were quick to admit the damaging impact social media can have on social situations. Over half of people (55 per cent) think it’s unacceptable to pick up your phone alongside your knife and fork, but for younger people, checking social media messages before breakfast was deemed “crucial” by 49 per cent. We know it’s a problem but we still continue to perpetrate it. Start by identifying precisely where your personal overusage lies.

Reduce your online dependency

The worst thing that could happen is your smartphone battery lasts longer than expected. Set some boundaries and stick to them. Commit to looking no more than once every hour. Remove badges and notifications from What’sApp. If anything’s genuinely urgent, count on someone phoning you to tell you. No one can dictate exactly what your limit should be, but aim for a reduction that you can reasonable stick to.

Avoid the networking backlash

We’ve all been victims (and some perpetrators) at some point. Dr Ivan Misner, world guru on business networking, and founder of BNI, famous for its networking breakfasts around the world, warned of a backlash against online networking. He said then that too many business people were using channels like Linked In to ‘hit up other people’. ‘Hi, I’d like to connect’ which means ‘Hi, I’d love to sell to you’. This has created a networking backlash. We no longer take cold approaches seriously. What could be a genuinely great connection is now sidestepped as spam. Meeting people and connecting face to face is the world’s oldest form of communication. It doesn’t need a formal environment. It can be on the tube, on the plane or your child’s birthday party. For decades Misner has advocated ‘If people like you, they will want to do business with you’. Proper offline connecting enables you to create a great rapport.

Networking in the flesh: here’s how

For those of us who’ve forgotten the art of connecting in person, the rules are simple. Try to ensure you look vaguely presentable. You never know who you might bump into. No need to stand on ceremony with people in the public eye. They walk, talk and go to the toilet just like everyone else. The key to great conversation is to be interested in other people and what they have to say. Make eye contact with your counterpart. Do you find my shoes especially fascinating? No? Then why are you constantly looking at them? A little flattery can go a surprisingly long way. If you make people feel good about themselves, they tend to reciprocate in kind.

Seven steps to disrupt your offline networking

1. How do you project your personality? Subscribing to social media channels alone is lazy. They have some merits but you need to advertise yourself more boldly. Who are you and how do you live your life? Ensure you allow your personality to shine through. You might just get remembered as a result.

2. There is no rule that states you can only have one business card. You could have two or three. One may be more formal, another more personal. It depends upon whom you are addressing and how you seek to build your relationships.

3. Business cards are generally bland in the extreme and lacking any personality. I have lost track of the number of cards where I was confronted with basic details one side and a blank space on the other. Why not mention three talents or passions on the reverse? It gives the recipient something to remember you by and a flavour of your diverse interests.

4. Don’t feel intimidated about subjects in which you are not expert. Most people who are brilliant in one area are fairly ordinary in others. We all have fallibilities, including the person opposite!

5. Asking questions and admitting ignorance is not a crime. Indeed, a failure to do so suggests arrogance and complacency. I appreciate honesty over BS every time.

6. Be authentic, be charitable, listen well and always give a little more than expected. When you give without expecting anything in return, the world will open up to you. Trust and confidence are the key ingredients here.

7. John F Kennedy famously exhorted his fellow Americans to consider not what the country could give them but what they could give to the country. If you adopt a similar battle cry, you will find your job prospects transformed.

Howard Lewis is director of technology-free networking experience, OFFLINE.

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