There are a few ways to think about networking, but they all seem to fall into one of two ways of thinking: either networking is fun or networking is a task.
From my perspective, we always have a choice and (almost) any “task”, per se, can be made enjoyable by approaching it from a positive angle. While there have certainly been occasions when I was unsure of how to connect with people in a room, those were moments that taught me the importance of engaging with an open mind.
As professional communicators, it can especially feel like an obligation to have to “always network,” but it’s fun to figure out how to read a person and connect on some level.
After speaking this past weekend with Narmina Strishenets, a former Humphrey Fellow from Ukraine, I thought for quite a while about something she said:
“People are more or less the same all over the world…sometimes you meet a person and think, ‘Okay, this person has a different background than I do, so most likely I shouldn’t get too close or just have small talk’… but eventually you never know what you will encounter in your life.”
During our conversation, she highlighted the importance of paying attention and actively engaging, as in the future, opportunities to circle back and connect with something or someone that in the moment you didn’t recognize, often occur.
It is about being present in a moment to find common values, no matter one’s background, culture, religion, politics, etc. Networking, quite simply, is connecting.
I had the pleasure of meeting Strishenets in the spring of 2017 before she went to New York for a summer internship with the United Nations. We met through mutual contacts at the Cronkite School while I was hosting a podcast for Cronkite News. We chatted for a bit about podcasts, recording techniques, audience, etc., all which were subjects she said she went on to research much, much more during her time at the UN, where she worked in public advocacy for UNICEF.
A podcast about girls’ education is in development, and with this being the specific focus of her work, Strishenets conducted a research of the most successful podcasts, cases in different countries, looking at technical aspects etc., in addition to running Twitter accounts, social media analytics–and, very importantly: having a fresh perspective.
This, she said, was something unique that she was able to offer, as coming from her time at Cronkite had inspired her to think innovatively. Having learned a lot from the internship, Strishenets described it as a very good experience in which she made friends and was able to return home with excellent letters of recommendation, helping her attain her current position at the UN in Ukraine.
She described her summer experience at the UN as being, in some ways, like the Humphrey Seminar, what with dealing from people from around the world. Strishenets emphasized her time as a Humphrey fellow not only provided opportunities for networking, but offered ideas and values that she uses in her job today.
“Sometimes, when we discuss some topics [in the seminar] you think…this seems obvious,” she said. “But especially with some very smart stuff about managing time and managing relations, because it’s sort of not tangible, try to remember it and apply it. It is really useful. Sometimes I think ‘okay, we learned about this in the Humphrey Seminar,’ so maybe I should look through my notes and revisit our experience together.”
From connecting with Strishenets briefly in the spring, to watching her journey progress & keeping in touch via social media, that really is a neat summarization of the power of introductions and networking.
“Our class was really amazing,” Strishenets said of the Humphrey Seminar. “I really believe that it is a great opportunity to make friends, maybe for life, who knows.”