I’m a proud member of a local organization called the East Coast Creative Collective. As a member of their steering committee and their social media manager (my official title on the website is Commander Media Pants), I try to attend as many events as possible. These include both the “Drink and Draw” events which act as working meetings, a chance to do some work while you chat with other creatives, and the “Creative Meetups” which are opportunities to “network”. I specifically place the word “network” in quotations because, I’m sorry to say, I think almost everyone is doing networking 178% wrong.

Have you ever been to a networking event? If you haven’t, let me run you through how it works. You arrive, quickly scan the crowd and try to figure out who would likely be the best people for you to talk to based almost entirely on what they’re wearing and maybe what they are drinking. You then swoop in and pull out your business cards, introduce yourself by breaking up the conversation that was happening before you arrived, explain to everyone what you do and what your perfect client would be. Then you quickly ask what everyone else does, immediately stopping listening when any of them bring up something that bores you or is not financially or socially advantageous to you. Sounds familiar?

Now before you suggest that I just don’t like networking or that I’ve never got anything out of networking or that I’m no good at talking to people…stop. I love networking, I’ve gotten many leads and sales out of my networking experiences and most people who know me agree that I could talk to a rock. That’s not it. The fact of the matter is, I find the utilitarian aspect of networking to be very cold and calculating. I admit that it absolutely can help your business but I don’t believe that it builds truly long lasting relationships. As such, I would like to suggest an alternative.

Listen. Talk. Get to know people. That’s how the E3C creative meetups work. No one is “allowed” to network in the traditional sense. People are expected to leave their cards in their pockets unless asked to produce them and participants are instead guided towards just having natural conversations with the other attendees in an attempt to create relationships based on people instead of based on purpose.

Let me tell you how I do it. Step one, introduce myself. I don’t introduce my job or my company or my intentions or my portfolio or my expectations. I introduce me. Just me. Nothing else. I say hello. I ask them how they’re doing. THEN I ask what they do. Now, here’s where it gets complicated. While the person is talking I do something REALLY weird. I listen to them. I know. I know. I don’t scheme. I don’t plan. I’m not just waiting for my turn to talk. I…actually…listen. And when they’re finished, I don’t just start in on my spiel. They didn’t ask. If they don’t ask, I don’t tell. If they don’t care what I do, then we just talk. Like people. I know, it’s weird, right?

So the next time you’re networking, don’t just whip out the business cards and expect them to do the work for you. Listen. It will change everything.