How to Be Better at Networking: Simple Tips for In-Person and Online Community Building

How do you do networking? Is it a cringy “need-to-do”, or a social practice you look forward to? Do you have a strategy when you enter a room of professional strangers, or do you just hope for the best?

Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing Lama Yammine-Hocks, ex-banker (Goldman Sachs, Standard Chartered Bank) and co-founder at Fintech, OPTO, which unlocks cash management automation through AI models. Lama has a natural gift with people, and she’s managed to leverage her global network to drive results in investment banking, payments digitization, and corporate finance in the Middle East and Europe for over nine years.

In part one of our conversation, we spoke about confidence, imposter syndrome, the disparity in funding in female-led start-ups, and why the woman’s way of leadership must prevail. In part two, we speak about networking and the importance of building community. Here’s what came up.

The case for networking, or whatever you want to call it

Most people I know cringe at the word “networking”. Somehow it’s become a bad word, bringing to mind business card hungry, overly enthusiastic careerists at random events breathlessly asking, “What do you do?” even while looking over your shoulder for their next target. Indeed, networking has become a bad word. But when we look beyond our preconceived notions and to what networking actually is—interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts so that we may experience mutually beneficial relationships over time—I think we can all agree it’s a necessary practice.

I met Lama Yammine-Hocks in 2023 at the Lead Today Shape Tomorrow conference by Female Founders in Vienna. I noticed her immediately and struck up a conversation about the dress she was wearing (clothing is often an easy way for me to strike up a conversation). Our exchange was natural and relaxed. What I didn’t realize was that she was the speaker for the session I was about to attend. When she took the stage and started speaking, it was immediately obvious to me that she had a natural way of connecting with people. 

“I’ve always been the odd one out. Imagine a young Lebanese girl in northern Spain at age 18—and in the heart of the Basque country where everyone speaks Basque, and then there is me. I clearly am an outlier. And then I’m an outlier in China and South Korea. In most places most of the time, so it might have been a defense mechanism for me just to be a social butterfly.”

From her experiences living in six countries, Lama has learned that building a network isn’t a nice-to-have, it’s a need-to-have. After all, if you want to build a tall building, you’re going to need some scaffolding.

“Big ideas need a big network.” —Lama Yammine-Hocks

Today’s big challenges require being better at leveraging our networks to solve problems. That means we have to find a way to engage in networking, or whatever we want to call it, in a way that feels good to us.

A two-pronged approach to in-person networking

You know that feeling when you enter a room at a conference and you know no one: you wonder who to talk to, what to say, or if you’re going to make a fool of yourself. It can feel daunting to walk up to a stranger, but it doesn’t have to feel that way. I asked Lama how she approaches it.

“In a conference center, I do a couple of things. The first thing is that if there’s a specific person I want to meet, I will drop them a message ahead of time and interact with them. But when it comes to general networking, I just tend to talk and form a relationship, whether it’s at a superficial level or a deeper level, with whoever I’m naturally drawn to. I don’t force myself to build a network with people that I’m not easily drawn to.”

Just like I was naturally drawn to Lama because of her style and openness, she uses the same natural attraction to connect with people in what could be considered a stressful social situation. 

“Nine out of 10 times when I’ve had something to solve it’s been because of who I know rather than what I know.” —Lama Yammine Hocks

It’s tempting to think that networking is just something we “need to do”, but at the end of the day, our community, our network, is the grease in the machine. So how can we get better at it?

 

https://www.linkedin.com/in/lamayammine/

 

A great example of how to build an authentic network on LinkedIn 

After meeting Lama in person, I connected with her on Linkedin. I quickly noticed her rich, relaxed, and authentic posts. It just feels like she’s having a conversation. “Hey, have you noticed this?” or “What are you thinking about this?” Then she always poses a question at the end to start a conversation. There’s no agenda. It just feels like she really wants to have a genuine conversation about something that’s been present in her experience. Sounds simple, but why does it often feel so hard to do?

If the purpose of being on social media, and especially on Linkedin, is to build our professional network, then it’s worth asking ourselves how we can do that better. Using Lama’s approach as an example, we can notice that she starts by being vulnerable. She shares something that she’s noticed or is curious about. Then she hands the mic to us, “What do you think about that?” It’s the classic tennis game of conversation. Finally—and here’s the key, she listens. She listens to the comments and responds to each of them. It becomes a conversation.

If we want to be better at building our networks and our communities we have to get better at having conversations—and that means getting better at listening. Listening isn’t widely regarded as the sexiest communication skill out there, but it’s foundational for developing the relationships we need to solve the very big problems facing humanity today.

Watch the full interview with Lama Yammine-Hocks here.

I’m curious, how have you built your network? 

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