“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
~Wayne Dyer

What a refreshing change!

I recently attended a networking event called MiDiCo (short for Michigan Diversity Connections). It’s a program designed to bring together small minority/women/veteran-owned businesses and potential corporate partners. I met some amazing people, listened to some interesting presentations, and made some great connections for the future.

But that wasn’t what made it different.

The difference — and I didn’t realize it until I returned home that evening — was that I wasn’t in charge.

Lately, it seems like every networking program I attend, I have some sort of official responsibilities. I’m either the speaker, the host, or one of the organizers. At MiDiCo, my only responsibility was to my own networking goals — and ended up being remarkably productive in the process.

It turns out, as shown by study after study, our brains like variety. We work better and more successfully when we change our environment. When we network, just like any other activity in our lives, we can get stuck in a rut and see a diminishing return on our efforts.

To fight this, here are seven ways to shake up your networking practice to get more of the results you want.

  • Change your level of responsibility. Are you like me? Are you the one always running the show? Maybe you need to attend a meeting or two where you aren’t the ringleader and main event. On the other hand, if you are someone who normally simply shows up to chat, step it up a notch. Ask how you can help. Become a host for the day. Maybe even step into a leadership role for the group.
  • Change your goals. Do you always focus on meeting three new people? That’s great! Maybe to break the pattern, though, you could set the goal to chat with three people you already know. One time, I showed up at the Chamber holiday event with the simple plan to enjoy the refreshments and relax. It was one of my best networking evenings that year.
  • Bring a guest. If you always show up alone, take the time once or twice to invite a guest. Telling someone else about all the benefits you’ve received from attending the group can re-invigorate your own enjoyment and productivity.
  • Attend a new group. Are you seeing the same old crowd every time you show up to network? Why not try out a completely new venue? Go to Meetup (meetup.com) and check out the other groups that gather near you. It doesn’t even have to be business oriented. Sometimes the most powerful networking happens when you find someone who has a similar interest outside the office.
  • Attend a new event. Maybe you’re not ready to try a completely new group. Try instead checking out some of the other events that your current groups put on. If you always catch the networking breakfast, try out the monthly lunch or the mix-and-mingle after hours. Each gathering will have its own culture, organizers, and centers of influence, but will still have the same underlying mission as defined by the group.
  • Skip the event. As you know, networking is not about attending the events. It’s about creating the relationships. If you are a regular participant already, there’s nothing wrong with intentionally breaking the pattern and skipping a week. Instead, invite a connection or three to go out to lunch with the express purpose of finding ways to help each other.
  • Sit with the visitors. Does the event have an orientation component for new attendees? Or maybe they bring the newbies together at a completely separate gathering. Either way, ask if it’s OK for you to sit in. You’ll meet brand new people and you might even discover benefits of being a part of the group that you had forgotten about.

Take a moment to break your existing networking patterns.Something as simple as sitting at a different table can change your perspective and boost your productivity to a whole new level.

Photo by Nick Youngson