When I think about my most productive networking experiences, they have one thing in common: They happened when I wasn’t trying to network.
A classic example: One time I was making lunch in the office kitchen when I started talking to the man next to me. He turned out to be the company’s CMO, visiting from the UK offices. We hit it off, and he later ended up offering me a job.
You might’ve noticed a similar effect in your own networking history—and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. When people actively try to network, the interaction can feel forced or awkward. Rather than a mutual exchange of ideas, opinions, and interesting stories, you end up having lots of conversations that go like this:
You: “So, what do you do?”
Them: “Well, I work as X for Company Y. What about you?”
Definitely not the type of dialogue that leads to a job offer.
So what are you supposed to do? Giving up your attempts to make connections obviously won’t help.
Luckily, I’ve got a solution that’ll make networking feel much more genuine—which’ll naturally lead to good results. Even better, it’s extremely straightforward. All you have to do is bring a networking wingperson.
Why a Wingperson Works
Most people rely on a wingman or wingwoman to help them meet romantic partners, but this strategy is even more effective when it comes to your professional life.
Having a wingperson puts you at ease, which is crucial when you’re surrounded by tens, hundreds, or even thousands of strangers. If you can look next to you and see a friendly face, you’ll feel more confident about approaching and chatting with an unknown one.
Plus, a wingperson will facilitate easy conversation. Pauses are pretty normal when you’re speaking with new people—a wingperson can jump in with a comment he or she knows you can build on.
Let’s say you’re talking to two other people and your wingperson when the conversation peters out. Your wingperson could turn to you and say, “Tell them about the time you had to give CPR to a client at the Christmas party!” Before you know it, everyone’s laughing and engaged again.
These benefits are just the beginning. The more you and your wingperson network together, the better you’ll become at anticipating each other’s needs, playing up each other’s strengths, and helping each other form valuable relationships.
Also read: How to Ask for A Networking Introduction
That being said, networking with another person can also have some undesirable consequences.
First, it’s possible that you’ll spend the entire time talking to your wingperson, not meeting other people. When you’re alone, you can’t retreat to the security of standing with someone you already know.
To ensure this doesn’t happen, you and your wingperson should agree in advance that you won’t spend more than five minutes talking without at least one other person there.
You should also be wary of making that other person feel like an outsider. If you and your wingperson are swapping inside jokes or making lots of references the third party won’t understand, you’ll make more enemies than friends. Be careful not to be too familiar with your wingperson, and always make an effort to include others in the discussion.
Picking the Right Person
To fully realize the benefits of team-networking, you need to select the right partner. There are a couple different things to look for.
Number One: Related Industry or Profession
You’ll be going to industry events with this person, so he should definitely be in your space. For example, if you’re a digital marketing specialist, your wingperson should be in marketing, advertising, or PR. Alternatively, look for a wingperson with your job title; she might not be in your specific field, but she’ll understand the demands of the role.
Number Two: Different Goals
This characteristic is slightly less important, but if you can, choose a wingperson that has different networking goals for you. Maybe you’re looking for a new job—if so, choose a wingperson that’s happily employed and wants to find new clients.
Why? Networking with someone who has a separate priority than you guarantees you won’t end up competing for the same connections.
Number Three: Compatible Personality
You don’t want a networking partner that drives you nuts after 30 minutes, nor do you want someone who’ll hog the spotlight. It’s not always easy getting a wingperson who highlights your strengths while playing down your weaknesses—but the more socially savvy that person is, the likelier she is to meet this criteria.
I recommend keeping an eye out at the next office or event party for that colleague you’ve got a great organic dynamic with.
How to Invite Your Wingperson
Once you’ve identified a potential wingperson, it’s time to make the ask. If you know her fairly well, this request won’t be difficult at all. Say something along the lines of:
Hey (name)! I really enjoy talking to you at professional events; in fact, you’d be the perfect networking teammate. Would you be interested in going to more events together? The whole process is so much easier when you’re standing around with someone who knows your personality and networking goals.
When you’re approaching someone you’re less familiar with, asking might be a little harder. I recommend having this conversation on the phone or, even better, in person, because it can sound awkward over email.
Hi (name)! I have a semi-random proposition for you. I’ve been going to a couple professional events lately, like (X conference, Y meet-up, Z summit), and I discovered it’s way easier to have genuine conversations and make new connections when you’ve got a networking “teammate.” Would you be open to showing up to (upcoming event) together? I’d love to hear your professional goals so at the event I could help you meet those.
This person is probably going to have questions about what exactly “team networking” would entail, so think in advance about the types of events you’d go to, how often you’d team-network, what exactly you’d like her to do, and other pertinent details.
Event Best Practices
Three-fourths of the battle is choosing the optimal person and getting him to agree to network with you. Of course, you still need to put some effort in at the event itself.
1) Give your partner topics for discussion. If the conversation lags, throw a subject your wingperson’s way. This subject should be aligned to his goals; for example, if he’s looking for a content marketer to bring on his team, you could say:
“Brian, did any of the resumes you got today look promising?” Then, turning to the rest of the group: “Brian’s hiring a new content marketer for Arrowsmith, his fintech company.”
2) Pick a passphrase. If you get stuck in a dead-end discussion, having a catch-phrase will let your wingperson rescue you. I’d choose a specific but subtle one, like “The appetizers look pretty good,” or “Have you ever gone to an event here before?”
3) Emphasize your wingperson’s best qualities. Don’t be obvious about it, but try to highlight your partner’s abilities or talents. For example, if she’s talking about her team’s latest project, you could add with a smile, “When it comes to unifying a group of completely dis-aligned people, Hannah’s a genius.”
4) Make the right introductions. If you’re talking to someone you know your wingperson would want to meet, but he’s not there, don’t let the opportunity slip away. Say, “Derek would absolutely love to hear your thoughts on (whatever you’ve been discussing). He’s over there, by the band—should we walk over?”
You might be thinking, Sounds great, but what’s in it for me? Being a fantastic wingperson will not only motivate your wingperson to do the same, it’ll also implicitly show them what to do. You’ll both come out ahead—and after a couple times tag-teaming, you’ll completely forget what it ever felt like to have an awkward, uncomfortable, counting-down-the-minutes networking experience.