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HOW-To: Network Like a Natural


It’s a word that causes anxiety. It’s a word that causes eye rolls. It’s a word that carries so much baggage that we ought to just come up with a new term for it and start over.

Unfortunately, we at HOW Design Live do not oversee any dictionaries or cultural lexicons—but that doesn’t mean we’re stuck with the same old tired notion of simply shaking hands and exchanging business cards and moving on down the line.

At HOW Design Live 2023, speaker Julie Brown brilliantly (and hilariously) pumped new life into our notions about networking in her session “This Sh!t Works: Networking Your Way to More Friends, More Adventures and More Success.”

Here are five tips drawn from her talk that just might reenergize your networking regimen, too. After all, as she told the crowd in Nashville: “I know one thing: The people you meet will change your life. And networking is how you meet those people.”

  1. List Yourself

Some people hate networking events because they feel like they have nothing to say. So Brown advises making a list to realize that you in fact have a lot to talk about: Like, say, whether or not you have kids. What pets you have (“if we all had dogs and could bring them to work and bring them everywhere, nobody would have any problems networking”). Your hobbies. Your passions. Your obsessions. The only thing you can’t list: what you do for a living.

“This list allows you to walk into rooms and have a conversation of who you are versus what you do,” she said. Doing so lights up fresh parts of your brain beyond simply muttering your job title—and in the process, you may just find yourself wholly reengaged with the concept of networking.

  1. Don’t Forget About Your Existing Network

Brown asked attendees to promise themselves two things: That they would reengage with the people in their existing network, and that they would ask them for strategic introductions to other contacts. What often keeps us from doing the former is the fact that we’ve lost touch or haven’t kept up as best as we should. But if you haven’t talked to those people in years, fear not.

“There are five words that connect you to anybody on that list. And those five words are: ‘I’ve been thinking about you.’ It is an immediate reconnection. … People love it,” she said.

  1. Don’t Sleep on Organizations

The good news: You can tick this one off the list just by attending HOW 😎

While there, take the advice of Brown’s friend Robbie Samuels: Look at groups of attendees like food. Specifically, bagels and croissants. When people are in bagel formation, there’s no way to break into that center. Instead, seek out croissants—groups with open entry points.

“Whenever I see that shape—that delicious crescent shape of buttery Paris croissant—I go in and I say, ‘Hi, my name is Julie. I don’t know anybody here. Do you mind if I join your conversation?’”

  1. Be the First to Follow Up

Brown said that 80% of building and maintaining relationships is just following up … and, well, people suck at it because they think it’s the other person’s job. So Brown treats it like those critical first 24–48 hours after a crime—and within a day she emails her new contacts and proposes an actionable step, such as a Zoom chat or an in-person meetup.

“If you’re really good at intentional follow-up, you will blow the competition away.”

  1. Nurture Your Network

Brown thinks of a network like a garden—each planted item takes its own individual time to mature. Spring radishes grow fast. Some tomatoes, meanwhile, take seemingly forever to come to fruition.

“You have to respect the time it takes for people to get to know, like and trust you,” she said. “You can’t bully them into it. You just have to build that relationship.”

For much more, tune into the full session right here!