Emily Merrell is the Chief Networker and Founder of Six Degrees Society, a networking platform that specializes in curated matches, which probably comes as no surprise to people who have known her since childhood. She has always loved finding out people’s stories – friends and family lovingly refer to her as “20 questions” because of her inquisitive and naturally curious conversation style – and she has been a lifelong “people collector”.
Emily moved schools a lot as a child and found herself filling the role of the “new girl” frequently. As an adult, she remembered that feeling when it came to networking – as the new girl, you’re just hoping there’s a nice girl who will invite you to sit with them at the lunch table, let you into their conversation, and make you feel seen.
When she created Six Degrees Society, Emily wanted to ensure that she was bringing all of the people she had collected over the years into a space where they would feel safe and secure and that networking didn’t have to be a gross, bad word anymore.
But founding Six Degrees Society happened purely by accident. Emily was always being asked if she knew a coder, or a marketing professional, or a fill-in-the-blank-here. She would send out an email introduction to the two parties and then it would go off into the abyss and she would never really know what happened after that.
She held her first networking event and had all attendees submit their bios beforehand. From there she gave each attendee four curated matches with other attendees based on the bios they had submitted. It was very structured, even though she wasn’t seriously pursuing this as a business at the time. But this format is still what Emily sticks to in Six Degrees Society – her events include two curated matches and an hour of programming. She was 26 when she started this and it was just an accidental side hustle at the time.
At first, Six Degrees Society was completely career-focused, but over time it has evolved to also include personal and lifestyle aspects for a more well-rounded approach.
Through the pandemic, Emily shifted Six Degrees Society from a purely in-person structure to a purely online structure, allowing for people to meet from all over the country and creating space for her programming to expand to many, many more events than she would have been able to facilitate when she was still holding them in person.
The main key for networking is that it doesn’t necessarily require a big effort to be made. Networking and making connections is much more simple than a lot of people make it. And Emily has five great tips on how to make connections with ease, anywhere.
- Connect digitally – Don’t be afraid to connect digitally when you see a name pop up on a social media platform and say that you have so many connections in common. Utilize a tool like calendly because it makes it so much easier to coordinate a “meeting” when you send someone a calendar link, instead of having an email chain of 40 emails back and forth to set a time.
- Connect in person – When you find yourself in a situation where you want to connect with a person out in the real world, don’t confine yourself to networking events. You can network on a train, you can network at a restaurant – you don’t have to be at a networking “event” to establish a connection with someone. Look for social cues and for something in common. If you want to talk to a person, think of a question to ask them, even if you know the answer already so you can strike up a conversation. If you see someone at the airport with luggage, that’s a social cue that they’re going somewhere. If you see someone with a college sweatshirt on and it’s the same school your mom went to, you can strike up a conversation that way.
3. Go alone to networking events – It’s easier to establish a connection with someone new when your needy friend isn’t hanging on you. Hang out by the food, there are always great people to meet by the food. You can ask a question – like if they’ve tried something – to start up a conversation.
4. Go to the phone – Your phone is another great conversation starter. Most people have their backgrounds set to their family, their dog, or some beautiful destination. You can use that to ask a question and start a conversation. It humanizes you and you find out more about a person by asking them that kind of a question.
5. Traffic – Everyone loves talking about traffic, no matter what city in the world they’re in. You’re able to find out where that person was coming from just by what they tell you, without asking them where they live or work first. Then you can dive into a conversation about that part of town and it opens things up for you to find out what they do for a living, or what their hobbies are, and more.
Networking and making genuine connections can be extremely easy – as simple as starting off with one question. It’s just about being naturally curious about other people. Try some of these tips the next time you’re looking to connect with someone and see how it goes!
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