Well both, obviously! Lots of people seem to fear networking, especially going into a crowded room not knowing anyone. I understand that and have been there, especially being new to a group or sector or context. It’s not always easy – and there will be some people in the room that prefer talking to those they know, but there are usually plenty who are like you, wanting to talk to someone, maybe also not knowing many people. So I look for them or someone who looks friendly and open to chatting.
And that’s what networking is in my view – chatting! I’ve usually engaged in networking without a specific aim or mission, just to chat, explore common interests – as you might do with anyone new to you. I remember some years ago now, meeting someone at a sector book launch just as I was leaving. We agreed we should meet up as we had common interests, and arranged a coffee. That subsequent coffee led to a long-term partnership between our charities – not envisaged by either of us when we had first met! And that’s the power and joy of networking, anything could happen! And it’s fine if it doesn’t.
If nothing else you might have an interesting conversation with someone, and they become part of your network and you become part of theirs. Which is great in itself. It also means someone else to contact/call if you face a particular challenge or situation. An example of that is some time ago meeting an expert in contact centre technology in an NHS meeting. Three years later I was working with a charity who needed such an expert, and I called her – and she did a great job for the charity reviewing our call and contact centre set up. This obviously goes both ways. A former colleague became a CEO some years after we worked together. We had kept in touch and when she got her first CEO role, we had a chat and I mentored her in her first few months. And that is also part of networking, I hope I can be a support and resource for those in my network, as well as feeling they could be for me. Plus it makes you feel part of a supportive and friendly community, which is enormously valuable.