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The Art of Networking Part I: Practical Strategies to Foster Growth Through Relationships

Networking is not just a skill; it's an art form. It's a crucial element that fuels both personal and professional growth. For some, networking conjures images of an awkwardly forced happy hour with name tags and meaningless small talk. For others who are more introverted, it might feel like a terrifying dungeon from which to escape. Whether you find it a bore, a terror, or a delight, it must be said that the United States was built by networking. Some of the most important deals in history were done with a handshake, over a steak and a baked potato, or written on a cocktail napkin.

Regardless of the setting, networking can change your life, and we wanted to give our perspectives about how you can do it with less fear or boredom. This article delves into the insights on networking shared by Rache Brand and Grant LaCorte, offering a unique perspective on mastering this essential skill.

The Essence of Networking

Networking is much more than socializing. It's about building connections that are both meaningful and productive. It's a strategic tool for entrepreneurs and investors to open new opportunities and foster growth. This may seem obvious to some, but it is easy to lose sight of how important networking can be in a world that prioritizes individual achievement over communal efforts.

Networking is about curiosity, chemistry, emotional intelligence, and recognizing the potential in every interaction. It's engaging with others to exchange information and build mutually beneficial relationships. It's about understanding the nuances of human interaction, facial expressions, and body language subtleties; that's how it becomes an art. Networking is a dance of personalities, where each step is a delicate balance between giving and receiving, listening and sharing.

Rache Brand's Approach to Networking

Rache Brand takes an active and curious approach to networking. When she shows up in a room, she has a plan. She seeks out those who appear dissatisfied in a room, believing they offer the most potential for meaningful interaction. Her strategy involves using her professional demeanor and a warm smile to interrupt what might seem like a droning conversation to make the person feel special and valued gracefully. In practice, this looks like approaching two people speaking, politely asking if she can steal Mr. or Ms. X for just 5 minutes.

By actively seeking a person out, she can help them feel seen and heard, which usually leads to them opening up more. The conversation does not have to go long; it opens a door for further discussions that night and, better yet, emails and phone calls in the future.

Rather than just promoting herself, Rache's genuine curiosity to understand people is at the heart of her networking philosophy. Her method is akin to a detective's keen observation, looking for clues in a person's demeanor or conversation that hint at more profound stories or needs. Her approach is not about accumulating contacts but creating moments of connection that resonate personally. 

Two key areas Rache leans in:

  1. Personalizing Gifts: There is something about putting a personal spin and care on something that makes people smile. That brings joy to the relationship.

  2. Discernment: Not all relationships are created equal, and not every relationship is at the right time. Deciding who to elevate and when to place someone into a position where energy exchange happens is critical. One's calendar can be filled with noise, or it can be hyper-strategic.

Rache attributes much of her career success to the relationships she built. She figured it out by accident in the 8th grade when she joined a Boarding School in Pennsylvania for High School, beginning in 9th grade. Mercersburg is the best network she could have joined and started her career. It's uniquely positioned in the DC Tri-State area, and the diversity in student population is still about 30% international. Throughout her career, she has unintentionally worked and played with her Mercersburg family. They were just her people. Now, it has become so much of an intentional space she places energy and time.

It makes sense that she operates as a partner and VP of the Star Strong capital portfolio. She manages over 30 portfolio companies and multitudes of investors while bringing in more deal flow and investors.

Grant LaCorte's Networking Philosophy

Grant's key focus when it comes to networking is depth. He is energized by one-on-one connections that skip the small talk and go right for the exciting, vulnerable, and even polarizing topics. He is very aware that perhaps he won't be everyone's "cup of tea," but he knows that the connections that he makes are incredibly meaningful. This search for meaning creates a bond that leads to committed relationships in the business world. He has found himself as a founder or working with founders frequently because his preference for depth shows people courage, intelligence, and a willingness to be open to whatever that person has to offer. 

If Grant was to choose one strategy to network on an elite level, it would be deep listening. Deep listening means paying close attention to the exact words a person uses. He knows a person's word choice is the key to understanding their unconscious perspective. He purposefully picks out words to reflect and repeat back to the person. He uses their name when reflecting to keep their attention and let them know he is deeply listening.

By asking about his networking partner's specific words, he can unveil the deeper meaning and desire of the person he is speaking with. What if a person keeps things surface-level and doesn't say much more than small talk? That is indicative, too. Grant might infer that either that person does not trust him or the environment enough to go deeper or may not know what they are talking about. Either way, that will inform his next comment or question.

Grant's method is more contemplative, seeking to understand the layers beneath the pleasantries of polite discourse. His approach is like that of the philosopher Socrates or the psychologist Sigmund Freud. Keep asking questions, probe gently, remain persistent, and uncover the core of a person's professional drive or personal passion.

Balancing Different Networking Styles

The synergy between Rache's extroverted, room-lighting approach and Grant's introspective, depth-seeking style demonstrates the effectiveness of diverse networking methods. Using both of these methods at different times can produce amazing results. The adage, "read the room," indicates which method to use or how to combine them. Adapting to different social settings, whether a casual meetup or a formal business event, is crucial. This balance is key in networking, allowing for a broader range of connections. It's about being versatile and flexible, able to shift gears depending on the context and the people involved.

The Journeyperson Mindset in Networking

Adopting a "journeyperson" mindset in networking involves loving the process and aiming for consistent, incremental improvements. Both Rache and Grant know that they are always growing in how they connect to people. People are often afraid to say the wrong thing, so they isolate themselves in the corner, away from the punch bowl.

One way to overcome this fear is to understand that everyone probably feels the same way. It is scary to put yourself out there, but we are all dealing with that fear. Embrace the lightness of messing up. Don't be afraid to say you don't know if there's a topic you are not versed in. People respond to honesty and authenticity. Own it if you make a mistake, apologize if you need to, and keep going!

Take the long-term view of networking and see it as a journey with many stops. Each time you speak to someone, you are evolving your aptitude. Every conversation can grow into a connection that might just change your professional or personal life.

Self-Discovery & Networking

Understanding your purpose and gifts can be a superpower in networking. We are all on a path of self-discovery; that's what it means to be human. The more you invest in getting to know yourself, the more you can show up fully in connection with others. Self-awareness enhances your ability to relate. Knowing who you are provides more value to the person you are speaking with.

Journaling, meditating, going to retreats, and investing in further education are only a fraction of the activities you can do to deepen your relationship with yourself so you can deepen your relationships with others. Self-discovery is an ongoing process, and it looks different for everyone. Intentionally setting aside time every week to invest in yourself can pay dividends in the network you build.

Practical Networking Strategies

Effective networking involves building chemistry and emotional intelligence. But how do you foster this? Curiosity is the answer. Adopt a "beginner's mindset" and always be ready to learn no matter the situation. Get prepared before you attend a networking event. Find out who is going and read up on them. Read a few articles about potential shared interests you might have with the people attending. Clearly identify what you want to achieve in the networking opportunity. Be open to the unexpected. Everything you prepared might not work, so stay curious when you get there.

Overcoming Networking Challenges

Common fears and insecurities can hinder networking efforts. Strategies like focusing on others, practicing active listening, and setting realistic goals can help overcome these challenges. For introverts, networking can be outside their comfort zone, but with the right strategies, they too can excel in this arena. It's about finding your style and leveraging your unique strengths within the networking spectrum.

Event Preparation:

  • Prepare Conversation Starters: Research the event, attendees, and relevant industry topics beforehand. Having a list of open-ended questions or interesting facts can help initiate conversations.

  • Set Realistic Goals: Instead of aiming to meet as many people as possible, set a goal to have meaningful conversations with a few individuals. Quality over quantity can be more manageable and fulfilling.

  • Find a Networking Buddy: Attend events with a friend or colleague who can help introduce you to others. This can ease the pressure of initiating conversations.

  • Utilize Breakout Sessions: Participate in smaller group activities or discussions. These settings can be less intimidating and offer more structured interaction.

At the event:

  • Listen Actively: Introverts often excel at listening. Show genuine interest in others' stories and opinions. This can lead to more in-depth and meaningful exchanges.

  • Use Body Language: Smile, maintain eye contact, and use open body language. Non-verbal cues can invite others to approach and engage with you.

  • Seek One-on-One Interactions: Engage individuals in one-on-one conversations. It's often easier and more comfortable than trying to break into group discussions.

  • Take Breaks: Allow yourself time to recharge if you feel overwhelmed. Step outside or find a quiet corner when needed.

  • Volunteer at the Event: Being a volunteer can provide a structured role and make it easier to interact with attendees in a more natural and less forced way.

Post Event:

  • Follow-Up Post-Event: If large interactions are challenging, focus on following up with individuals after the event through emails or social media. This can be a more comfortable way to build connections.

  • Leverage Social Media: Engage with event attendees and organizers on social media platforms after the event. This can help establish connections in a less direct manner.

Networking in Different Contexts

Adapting your networking approach to suit the environment is critical. Professional settings may require a more formal approach compared to casual networking events. In the digital age, virtual networking has become increasingly important, requiring different skills and strategies. It's about being adaptable and versatile, able to navigate diverse networking landscapes with ease and confidence.

Professional Conferences

  • Preparation: Research keynote speakers, panelists, and companies attending. Familiarize yourself with their recent achievements or news.

  • Strategy: Aim to ask insightful questions during Q&A sessions and approach speakers post-event for follow-up discussions.

  • Dress Code: Opt for business attire aligning with the professional tone of the event.

  • Follow-Up: Connect on LinkedIn with a personalized message referencing your interaction or a key takeaway from the event.

Casual Meetups or Industry Socials

  • Preparation: Understand the theme or purpose of the meetup. Prepare some industry-related talking points.

  • Strategy: Be more relaxed in conversations. Share personal stories related to the industry to create a rapport.

  • Dress Code: Business casual or attire that matches the venue's ambiance.

  • Follow-Up: Exchange contact information and express interest in meeting again in a less formal setting.

Virtual Networking Events

  • Preparation: Test your technology beforehand. Ensure a professional background and good lighting for video calls.

  • Strategy: Engage actively in chat rooms or breakout sessions. Be concise and clear in your communication.

  • Digital Etiquette: Mute yourself when not speaking and use non-verbal reactions to show engagement.

  • Follow-Up: Send follow-up emails or LinkedIn requests promptly after the event.

Community or Volunteer Events

  • Preparation: Learn about the cause or organization hosting the event. Reflect on how your personal or professional values align with them.

  • Strategy: Engage in conversations about shared interests in the cause. Offer your skills or support for future community initiatives.

  • Dress Code: Casual or attire appropriate for the activity (e.g., T-shirt and jeans for a community clean-up).

  • Follow-Up: Connect on social media platforms or community forums to stay updated on future events.

Informal Gatherings (e.g., Happy Hours)

  • Preparation: Understand the nature of the gathering. Is it a celebration, a farewell, or just a casual get-together?

  • Strategy: Keep conversations light and enjoyable. Avoid heavy business talk unless it comes up naturally.

  • Dress Code: Casual or what you'd wear in a relaxed office setting.

  • Follow-Up: A friendly message or invitation to a similar type of event can be a good way to keep the connection.

In each of these scenarios, the key is to remain authentic while adapting your approach to the setting. Networking isn't just about exchanging business cards; it's about building genuine connections that can grow over time, regardless of the environment.

How We Can Do this Together

The insights from Rache Brand and Grant LaCorte highlight the multifaceted nature of networking. It's an art that, when mastered, can open countless doors and create myriad opportunities. Embracing networking as a vital tool for growth can lead to significant personal and professional development.

We encourage you to apply these strategies in your networking endeavors. Embrace the journey, be curious, and remember that every connection has the potential to lead to something great. Networking is not just about building a contact list; it's about building relationships that matter.

If you would like to help your team become elite networkers, deal-makers, and partnership generators, then consider applying for the Superstruct 360 Assessment and Growth plan. With the guidance of Rache Brand, you can elevate your team's skill set to foster resilient growth in 2024.

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