I connected with Iris Kavanagh, coworking consultant and community-building veteran, about connecting in coworking spaces, why it can be so effective, and how to best network in a shared office.

Cat Johnson: What kind of networking do you see happening in coworking spaces? How does it differ from traditional networking events?

Iris Kavanagh: I see a lot of organic networking. People connect with each other without being forced to. Maybe two people step into the kitchen, each grabs a cup of coffee, they say hello to each other and a conversation strikes up. I’ve even seen people networking in the bathroom.

I also see people networking through platforms that coworking spaces provide. They’re reaching out to ask for help on their WordPress website or a piece of code. I see a lot of networking through written communication. Then there are the networking events that coworking spaces provide. They happen in causal contexts, like happy hours, and there are mixers, speed networking events, afterhour events and Meetups.

You don’t show up to a coworking space in the morning, with your business cards handy and your elevator pitch in your mind and think, “I’m going to meet five new people today who I’m going to tell about my product or service.” What happens instead is, you’re working, and someone else is working, and you might strike up a conversation. It’s not better or worse than traditional networking, but it might lead to a deeper connection because it happens more organically than in a forced environment.

A coworking space can be a good place to get feedback, get job recommendations and tell people about your project—but you don’t want to come off as too smarmy of salesy. What are some tips for networking in a coworking space?

Don’t be a smarmy person, just in general. It comes down to good social skills, which is tricky for some people. It comes down to listening and being interested in what the other person is saying, rather than just waiting for a pause to talk about yourself. Have an authentic conversation with somebody. Really be interested in meeting your fellow member. If they ask what you do, you can offer that, but they may or may not ask and you may not need to provide that because it may not be the right moment to talk about yourself.

What are some common mistakes you see people making when trying to network in a coworking space?

There are some people whose energy is uncomfortable for other people because they’re very pushy in their communication. I see people go right up to someone and basically demand an answer. It’s a mistake to assume that somebody has the time at that moment to talk with you. It’s better to ask if they have a moment. Let them know you saw their profile or are excited to get to know them a little bit and ask if they have a minute to chat.

When running a coworking space, I like to follow the 95/5 rule, which is 95% informational and 5% sales. I think that’s a good rule to practice in networking, as well. Networking is really about building real relationships with people—it’s not about talking about what you do all the time. If 95% of the conversation is informational, and maybe you’re giving them advice about what they’re looking to do, then you can follow that up by letting them know that you’re building a consultancy in that field and would love to talk more. Think soft sell and not hard sell.

Aside from casual introductions over coffee, what are some of your favorite networking opportunities in a coworking space?

Coworking spaces will often hold events, like happy hours and casual events, for networking. Attending these is a great way to start.

One of the members in my local coworking space will send out an email that says he’s buying everyone a beer at a neighborhood bar at 6:30. He has no expectations around that. He just throws it out there, he goes, and whoever shows up, he talks with them and gets to know them a bit and provides a space for other members to get to know each other. That’s a great thing for a member to do. Or you can just send out an email inviting people to meet at the local coffee shop for breakfast in the morning. Involve your local infrastructure and not just the coworking space.

Do you have any tips for introverts for connecting with people in a coworking space?

Connect with your community manager in a one-on-way. If you’re introverted and it’s hard to put yourself out there, ask if you can have coffee with your community manager. They should automatically be doing that with each of their members, but if they haven’t, just spend 15 minutes talking to them to let them know who you are and what you’re looking for. Hopefully that community manager will help you connect.

Make sure you have your profile filled out on whatever platform the space offers. If there’s a member wall, make sure your photo and your and company name get put up there. If your space uses a community platform to connect its members, even if it’s Slack, make sure you fill out your online profile. That way, if someone is searching for a UX/UI designers, and that’s you, you come up in their search.

For space operators, what kinds of events and programming lend themselves to effective, human-scale networking?

I’m a fan of casual happy hours—and not just alcohol-only happy hours. You can do a happy hour in the afternoon with ice cream; you can do a happy hour with cookies and tea. The point is to make a non-work-related event casual and easy for people to access. Make sure there’s food or booze, but always have a non-alcoholic beverage, as well.

I feel like speed networking events are some of the best events for meeting people. Speed pitches are great, where people have the opportunity to practice their elevator pitch. Members have a chance to talk about themselves and other members give feedback. Then, events that are more like typical speed dating, where people move every two minutes, are good.

Brown Bag lunches and Lunch and Learns can be a great networking opportunity if you’re good at getting your members to lead them. If you have a member who’s a UX/UI designer and they lead a UX/UI fundamentals Brown Bag, they’re likely to get a mixed group of people in there: people who are in the field and also people who may just be interested. The person standing up gets to be a thought-leader and the community gets to know them a little bit. I see a lot of conversations sparked up after that.

Originally posted in Share Your Office

Cat Johnson is a writer and content strategist focused on coworking, community and the future of work. Publications include Shareable, Yes! Magazine, Mother Jones, Triple Pundit and GOOD. She’s the author of Coworking Out Loud, a guide to content marketing for coworking spaces and collaborative teams. Follow her on Twitter: @CatJohnson

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