Networking secrets every woman—and man—needs to know today

A new study says that women in events rock, but there is room for improvement. The survey, by UFI, the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry, asked a series of questions about perceptions of skills based on gender and found some pretty overwhelming trends.

The survey of 200 respondents from around the world, titled Women in the Exhibitions Industry, found that women, in general, have greater so-called soft skills—more patience (19 percent vs. 4 percent), communication skills (50 percent vs. 14 percent) and organizational skills (59 percent vs. 17 percent) than men. However, they were seen as lacking in possession of power (8 percent vs. 29 percent) and networking (15 percent vs. 46 percent) when compared with men.

Since more than half of the female respondents said they do not feel equally treated in areas such as salary (52 percent) and career opportunities (53 percent), but an overwhelming majority (82 percent) love their jobs, we thought we would serve up some tips to help in the essential area of networking as a way to open up career opportunities. The good news is that these are tricks that will work for men in the events industry, too. And the better we all get at making connections, the better off we and our attendees will be.

Be Inefficient Social Engines

The best way to make life-changing connections is to make yourself uncomfortable. Tanya Menon, an associate professor at Ohio State University who has 1.7 million views on her TEDx talk, The Secret to Great Opportunities? The Person You Haven’t Met Yet, says we are creatures of habit. We go to the same coffee shop, take the same route to work and possibly even use the same stall in the same restroom every day. We look for people like us and tend to spend our time with them. This makes us feel comfortable, but it also limits our ability to engage with new ideas—exactly what we need when we are facing big problems, such as finding a new job.

Menon channels Mark Granovetter, a Stanford sociologist and author of Society and Economy, to explain that we all have strong ties (friends and family) and weak ties (acquaintances, co-workers and friends of friends). However, most new professional opportunities come from the weak ties, who know about opportunities we may not know.

The problem is that when we are stressed (losing a job, for example), we find it difficult to reach out. Yep, when we need these connections the most, we have the most trouble even thinking of possible social avenues, let alone mustering the courage to drop them a note. And the people we do ask for referrals from tend to have very similar networks to our own. Menon explains, “This is essentially ‘un-friending’ everyone except your mom, dad and dog. You are doing this to yourself by shutting down and not seeing your resources, allies and opportunities.”

How can you leverage more weak ties and get the ticket to a whole new social world? You can start by being less predictable. Here are some specific steps to mix up your resource galaxy.

How to Widen Your Social Universe

Use a more imperfect social search engine: The randomness required to bump into new people takes planning. Change your routine to inject unpredictable diversity into your life. Take a different route to your office; check out a new coffee shop; go to a different bathroom. Bounce off other people in social hubs and be open to talking to new people.

Fight your filters: Vow to go to coffee with the person who is least like you in your building, or better yet, someone who really annoys you. It will force you to face the things you normally unconsciously avoid and widen your understanding of the world.

Self-affirm: Look at your list of LinkedIn friends to remind yourself how large your network really is, and think about how to creatively work with those people. Consider all the skills you have to offer a potential client or employer so that you will be reaching out from a place of strength. This self-talk allows you to take advice from people who might otherwise feel threatening to you.

Speak the language of humanity: A lot of the terms we use when asking for a favor are transactional: “I owe you one,” or “I am obligated to you.” These words bring to mind a balance sheet. Instead, use phrases that speak to shared connections: “That is what friends are for,” or “It is always better to collaborate.” Channeling the shared benefits of any relationship will ease the burden required to give or receive an introduction.