The Laughing Toastmaster: No More Networking Nightmares!

A Toastmasters Guide to Networking

I miss lockdown! Those wonderful days when I didn’t have to network. I don’t mean networking as in using (I prefer the term ‘borrowing’) my neighbour’s Wi-Fi. I mean if you use our street name as a password you CLEARLY want to share.

I’m referring to networking as in that outdated system of ‘face to face communication’. For those too young to remember, this consists of standing in front of other human beings and engaging in impromptu ‘talking’ and sometimes making strange noises called ‘laughter’ (the sound made by LOL). All this without a screen to keep you safe in your cosy, comforting, cloud cocoon.

Scary? It gets worse. On occasions you’re forced to do this with complete strangers! Absolutely no time to Google, Instagram or Tinderize them. On top of that, you’re expected to answer questions like, ‘Do you like the canapes?’, totally off the cuff! No time to TikTok ‘Dry Canapes’ for an answer!

Now you might be forgiven for preferring Netflix to Networking (I certainly do) but hear me out, because studies show that this archaic ritual is the answer to all business, sales and revenue problems. It even helps with insomnia! Which I totally understand because if I had all my business, sales and revenue problems solved, I’d sleep like a sloth at siesta time.

The issue is the activity itself: NETWORKING. Defined as: A group of dedicated people who are committed to maintain a relationship with each other in order to support a given set of activities. Forgive me but DEDICATION, COMMITMENT and SUPPORT are really BIG words that remind me of my marriage vows. And as much as I’d love to tell you how that turned out…

Divorce and alimony aside, fear of networking is universal. A recent survey shows most of us would rather face a wild tiger in the jungle rather than engage in this activity. In some extreme cases, PUBLIC SPEAKING was listed ‘preferable’ to networking!

What is a network phobic supposed to do? Well, I’ve gone on a NETWORK gathering mission and have exclusive, never before published techniques on how … NOT to network.

We start off with NETWORKING PASSIVELY, a technique used by most first timers because of its simplicity. I stand around looking at my shoes with the interest of a tax collector searching for money. I’m hoping someone will come and say ‘Hello. Do you network here often?’. It doesn’t happen.

Instead, I fall into NETWORK ENVY, as I see everyone else is part of a fun-filled group, talking, laughing and having a good time! Business contacts are flying around faster than insults at the reading of my rich uncle’s will. As all this revenue-making- activity is happening, I’m stuck with a guy who gives me a 30-minute-monologue on model trains. For the record I have nothing against model trains, but aren’t we supposed to take turns talking? That’s what it said when I Googled ‘The Art of Conversation’.

Trapped in what is described as NETWORKING NEGATIVELY, I try to leave by using the old, ‘I’ll be back. … going to the ladies… ’, but as I come out of the toilet, model train guy is waiting, ‘So there you are!’

I then become what is officially known as a NETWORKING PUSHOVER, a person who cannot get out of a bad networking situation. I have to stoically endure another 30 minutes on models, this time on ‘How to make a cheap but aesthetically pleasing pond for your model’. Apparently, it takes artistry and creativity.

Finally, with zero contacts but a trainload of model knowledge, I leave the premises, just in time to get to my Toastmaster meeting.

And that’s when I fall into NETWORK BLISS! Because at Toastmasters, you don’t need any special skills or techniques to get to know people and find opportunities. Our organization provides the environment that will not only teach you to speak in public, but it will help direct you towards interested parties.

It’s the ultimate ‘greet, meet and speak’ scenario, or as I like to call it, NETWORKING POSITIVELY.

As for model train guy? He’s coming to our next meeting, where I’m sure he’ll find a perfect ‘Pathway Track’.

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Sonia Aste is an engineer, writer and comedian who believes in NETWORKING POSITIVELY.

She is a member of the Riverside Communicators Club.
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