Networking can be a tough activity to get into, especially if you get nervous when starting conversations with strangers. Not everyone is a great at it, but everyone should network if they want to advance their career, find business partners and clients, or even find a new job. Which puts many of the more introverted job seekers in a difficult position, needing to put themselves out there but not feeling entirely up to the task.
Whether you’re a complete introvert or a social butterfly, having a little fun and making a game out of your networking efforts can be a great way to get over your nerves and spice up the activity. You’ll find yourself driven to make a ton of interesting connections.
Here’s a great way to implement gamification in your networking:
Start with an overall goal
The aim of gamifying networking isn’t the same as it was in the past. Before the age of internet and easy communication, it was common for individuals to aim for collecting a hundred business cards at each event. After all, especially in sales and marketing, that was the best way to fill up a pipeline of leads for your business.
The internet now makes that process obsolete, as finding contact information and reaching out online drives a majority of business introductions. Today, it’s more about making a few high-quality connections rather than vacuuming up the most contact information possible.
Which is why you need to set a smart overall goal for your networking efforts. Make it realistic. If you go into networking with the objective to get a job from one of the contacts you meet, you may never succeed. After all, while any one individual may not offer you a job, they can make the introduction or referral necessary to help you land an interview.
Figure out exactly what you want out of your networking efforts and how to best attain it. For example, rather than “get a job,” your goal can be to meet like-minded professionals that you can have a mutual exchange of expertise with and learn from, with the added benefit of opening doors at companies that you admire.
Create a points system
Great video games have a rewarding progression curve based on a points system. Each different activity gives a different amount of points, and collecting a certain number of points gets you over a threshold, which equates to “leveling up.” As you level up, you require more points to get past the next threshold, which means you can’t continually rely on low point activities to get you past the next post.
It’s easy to apply this concept to networking, and it all lies in how you approach the activity on a day-to-day basis, as well as on a weekly and monthly timeline. Begin by setting out a few levels. To reach the first level, for example, set a points threshold of 1000. The second level can be 2000 points, the third can be 4000, and so on. You can be flexible about these levels. Just start with something that feels right, and you can adjust as you go if it’s too difficult or too easy.
Then begin setting out general networking tasks of varying levels of difficulty and effort. This can include number of events you attend each week or each month. Or you can focus on event-specific goals such as the number of high-quality conversations you have that can result in future contact. Finally, add some sub-goals that are directly applicable to your overall goal, such as getting an introduction to a potential client or interested hiring manager.
Depending on the difficulty of each task, assign a point value. Particularly tough tasks should net a high point total, while simple daily tasks should give low amounts that add up quickly. For example, you can assign small point values to things like landing a new connection on LinkedIn, medium-sized point values to things like sending an effective follow-up email that gets a response, and high point values to things like landing a job interview through a referral.
Determine the rewards
The best part of gamifying your networking is that it drives you to achieve greater heights in the pursuit of a reward. And you also get to set your own rewards! Figure out what personal rewards you want out of your networking, whether it’s buying a cool gadget you’ve had your eye on, taking a day at the beach, or going to a concert. Go for rewards where your interests lie.
Make sure that each reward is in line with the achievement. Having a reward that is too valuable for a small achievement defeats the purpose of gamification and prevents you from tackling networking tasks that seem out of reach. Set easy, normal, and difficult milestones, and set appropriate rewards for each.
And remember to give yourself the rewards that you achieve. Don’t neglect actually following your reward system, as it serves to motivate you to keep going and keep achieving. Finally, don’t cheat and give yourself rewards you haven’t earned. It makes the entire process meaningless.
Your networking game should be private. Don’t go around bragging about it or telling others. Not everyone will be as understanding of how effective and motivating a gamified networking strategy can be. There’s no reason to compete with others or bring them into your game. Your biggest opponent should always be yourself, and your greatest goal should always be to outperform your achievements from yesterday, last week, or last month.
On the inside, feel free to be giddy and excited when you reach a new level, pass a threshold, or land a big chunk of points. On the outside, be professional, amiable, and friendly, and always be ready, willing, and enthusiastic to have valuable conversations and share your expertise.
The reward of networking isn’t just what you get out of others, but also what you give in return. The best professional relationships are based on a mutual exchange of help and information, not a one-way stream of favors.
Networking doesn’t have to be a nightmare for the introverted. It doesn’t have to get boring for the extroverted. It just takes a bit of creative thinking, a clever points and leveling system, and some fun rewards to bring life into your networking efforts.
So go ahead and make a game out of it. Because there’s a reason why fitness and learning apps use gamification - it works, people achieve more, and they keep coming back. The same can apply to making new professional connections.