Ertugrul Belen & Optimist Publishing House
You will be convinced of the power of coincidences. Networking is possible in environments even when you're not looking for ways for networking. And you never know what gateways such unpredictable networking opportunities will lead you through:
Restaurants are among key Networking destinations. Sometimes, you go to a restaurant only because you're hungry. Most of the time though, you might as well find key reasons other than "eating". While going out for dinner with someone, your initial motive would be "doing something together" rather than "eating". A business dinner is an activity where a deal is made, despite looking like an ordinary environment. Food is definitely of secondary importance. You forget about your order, and get carried away by the flow of the conversation you have with the other.
For Networking purposes, you should have a few restaurants where you are known! Make sure the staff and guests know you in a restaurant with good quality of food and service. You'll guarantee a good first impression when you are greeted by your first name once you get in with your guests. Define three to four different categories by price range and menu, and be a regular in those restaurants. These restaurants will familiarize with your face over time. Need to organize a dinner for a group? Take them to one of your restaurants. Knowing the place and getting known there will make you feel comfortable. And you will not be bugged by the inner voices stressing you about the probability of not liking the food or
having to pay a hefty bill. Whether you are the host or the guest, don't forget that you're not there to eat. And leave your concerns aside. Try to have some quality time. When that nervous voice inside you reminds that "something can go wrong", you might find business dinners bothersome, ending up on the verge of panic attacks.
Just be yourself in business dinners too. For example, don't have sushi just because the others recommended it to you. Don't be misled by the desire to make others content, e.g. by ordering the food they prefer but you would otherwise not even touch. However, don't attempt to order steak in a fish restaurant for example, just for the sake of going offbeat and sounding unusual. Avoid putting a dollar amount on your perception of quality by ordering the most expensive food and drinks. The most embarrassing yet funny example among business dinner goofs is lobsters flying off to land on the next table. A hamburger, on the other hand, may be even more dangerous. You may want to have a hamburger later, when you're alone, so that your guests don't watch you struggling to put together the oil, tomatoes and pickles all over the place. You probably know your limits when it comes to alcoholic drinks. No matter how pleasurable the conversation is, don't overdrink.
Introduce yourself in a restaurant if you're a group of more than two people. This is the secret to getting known. Smart waiters keep the key information about their customers.
Sometimes, you eavesdrop on a delightful chat next table. Don't pop in the conversation of a group that seems not to be quite open to welcome newcomers. Though I have seen many cases where people switched to the next table to join the conversation if appropriate. Indeed, long dinner table conversations are ideal for Networking! But keep in mind! You don't want to bring up serious topics like politics, religion and football even. Attempting a deep conversation on such topics is no different than putting a ticking bomb right in the middle of the table.
Planes, Trains, Buses and Waiting Lounges
Be it by plane, bus or train, I have always liked traveling and waiting in the terminals. Terminals offer you ample room to observe a good number of people different from each other: the inpatient, the relaxed, the sleepy, the curious... People with different characters gather in the same terminal to travel to a certain destination.
If you're more of an extrovert, or if you're in the mood, terminals would serve as a platform for a Networking session. Business Lounges in airports, in particular, are cut out for this very 'mission'. Unless you're busy with a presentation or report to deliver, why not start a chat with other passengers? You'll not even understand how time flies. Add to that the chance to see the other turns out to be an interesting person. In that case, you can exchange contact information and arrange to meet for a second time.
Travels may unfold new opportunities. Do meet people who look interesting, but avoid insisting if the other does not necessarily chat back. Don't enslave the other to your conversation. We all may slack off in the conversation, ending up with "sharing" most personal issues including the problems with your family. The other, though, may not necessarily appreciate such friendliness, feeling -- most of the time -- overwhelmed. Take into account the other's mood and if they are actually eager to meet.
Sports, Hobbies and Other Activities
Gyms, by their nature, are among the places where you find yourself Networking, without necessarily looking for it. Once you join a class for a certain sport, you automatically start getting to know your classmates. If you work out regularly, you start knowing some people "by sight" and at least greet each other even though you're not into getting social. And then you find yourself talking about your "sports friends"
Some sports are social by their nature. You need at least one more person to play tennis. You'll need even more for volleyball and basketball. And football requires the highest number of people. You don't have to exchange something other than your shared interest with those you meet as part of sports activities. If your mindset is programmed to Networking, though, you can turn these encounters into opportunities.
Unsurprisingly enough, people with shared interests in a certain sport, hobby, music and movies like talking to each other . You get together with a number of interesting people in many other events and activities other than the football field, like tango courses, Portuguese classes, offroad activities, culture and art festivals, electronic music parties, bridge and chess and nature sports. As you keep nurturing your connections, you will be more likely to come up with solutions for your needs through these new acquaintances.