As the holiday season draws closer and the number of functions and events I get to attend for either business or pleasure increases, I began thinking that this might be the perfect time of year to brush up on my networking skills.
Although I am an extrovert by nature and enjoy meeting and speaking with people, I have come to appreciate that there is a distinct difference between recreational mingling and networking with a purpose. Of course, each of us has our own reasons for wanting to network more effectively – to start or build business relationships, to promote our business, to become better informed about our industry, to gather and share ideas – but perhaps none are more important than networking with the purpose of helping others.
This is something I find gets lost on many people, whether in the meetings industry or in social circles. I have posted before about the hazards of broadcasting your message all over social media without also maintaining a genuine desire to help others get what they’re looking for or being able to create value for them. Experience has taught me that when you approach networking from a perspective of creating value for people, good things tend to happen.
Once you’ve decided to focus on creating value, then, here are seven tips I’ve gleaned over the years that may be helpful in improving your networking ROI.
Get out there: Online social media sites such as Facebook and google+ have their time and place but they are not always the best places to network. In fact, most people tend to communicate and share Facebook posts with people they already know. As Woody Allen said, 80 per cent of success is showing up. That’s why it’s important to attend a wide spectrum of offline events in order to more effectively network: community, industry, social as well as events for industries that may be only distantly related to your own. It’s all about building new connections, not always hanging with the same crowd.
Be interested, not interesting – Not only does this mean becoming a better listener (see my earlier post on the art of listening), it also means being curious about other people. Ask about their interests (remember F.O.R.M. – family, occupation, recreation, motivation). Also remember to ask about the best way for you to tell others what it is they do. This will give you an additional edge when it comes time to introducing them to others.
Become a connector – Be willing to share your contacts, ideas and knowledge. Offer to pass along their information to others. Find commonalities that you can use to build and improve relationships outside the one you are trying to develop. Find the influencers and network “hubs” and help connect them with people who could use their services or products. Soon, you will find yourself as the “go-to” person for making connections and become a trusted hub in their network.
Don’t talk shop – At least not all the time. Leave out the industry jargon and clichés. Whether it is making small talk about the event, the weather or their interests, save the shop talk for a follow up chat or wait until asked for more information about what you do. Focus on what you can do for the other person before finding out what they can do for you.
Work the room – Don’t monopolize one person’s time. Talk to as many people as possible. Find a tactful way to end conversations (“It’s been great meeting you. I hope you don’t mind, but I’d like to talk to a few other people before the event is over. Do you have a card so that we might stay in touch?”) Effective networkers learn how to make smooth transitions from one conversation to another without looking like a mercenary. Use the opportunity of meeting many new people to your advantage by facilitating connections and introductions.
Perfect your pitch – And give it only when asked. One of the worst things you can do is lead with your pitch. It’s always better to wait until asked about what you do. Then, and only then, do you offer a simple, concise and memorable one-sentence description of your business or service. As someone once said, pretend you’re explaining your business to an eight-year-old. You’re not talking down to them, just putting things in terms anyone can understand.
Do your homework – Do some research on prominent attendees, speakers, delegates, etc. Find out who else might be attending (through your preferred social media channels) so you can connect in person at the event. Think about any objectives and goals you have for the event. What do you want to learn? Who do you want to meet? Prepare a few icebreaker questions in advance to make introductory conversations less awkward. A little preparation can go a long way to making your networking opportunities even more fruitful to your business success.