Most people attend networking events to gain something: job leads, referrals, exposure, connections, opportunities to grow their business, product or services. Having attended several networking events, most of these people leave disappointed, dismissing networking as a complete waste of time.
But, the opposite is that some people walk out with a handful of business cards feeling happy, inspired and excited. The major difference between these two groups of people is this: the people who leave on a high note are those who attend with just one goal in mind — to figure out how they can help others in the room.
“True networking occurs when there’s an understanding that everyone in the room has equal value.”
True networking occurs when there’s an understanding that everyone in the room has equal value. In its purest form, it’s about people enjoying other people, communicating passions and connecting with others who share those passions. It’s about listening, figuring out what others need and connecting them with people you think can help, without any designs for personal gain. The most successful networkers build genuine relationships and give more than they receive. They go beyond thinking, “What’s in it for me?” to ask “How can I help?”
To follow their approach, here are ways to network successfully and have fun doing it.
Start networking before you need it.
Seasoned networkers can smell the stench of desperation from across the room. People can sense when someone is only out to help himself. Tip-offs ranging from a panicked look in the eyes to a portfolio brimming with resumes will send them running in the other direction. On the other hand, by networking when you have no ulterior motive, you can begin to build relationships and a reputation for being generous rather than self-serving.
Have a plan.
Since every person has value, it’s essential that you know what yours is. Before you attend any networking event, get clear on what talents, strengths, skill sets and connections you can bring to the table. Map out what you want to talk about, particularly how you may be able to help other people, either now or in the future.
Forget your personal agenda.
While you may be tempted to network just to land a job or talk to people you normally wouldn’t have access to, that’s a mistake. Instead, make it your goal to be open, friendly and honest, and to forge connections between people who may be able to help each other. Generosity is an attractive quality and it’s something special that people will remember about you.
Never dismiss anyone as unimportant.
Make it your mission to discover the value in each person you talk to. Ask questions and listen with interest. Don’t make the mistake of discounting people due to their titles. Someone you meet may “just” be a clerk, but they may have valuable connections or knowledge you’d never learn about if you’d dismissed them. Then, when the conversation ends, remember what that person has to offer as you move to the next.
Figure out how you can be useful.
Before any conversation comes to a close, be sure to ask, “How can I help you?” Because it’s done so rarely, you may encounter a surprised look, but it will most likely be accompanied by an appreciative smile. While the person may not have an answer for you that night, they may have an idea later. Always close by saying something like, “If you need anything, please reach out to me or connect via LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, email, text, etc.…” and present your business card or use the “Switchitapp”.
Follow up and follow through.
If you told someone you’d get in touch with them, do it and reaffirm your intent to assist in any way you can. If you promised to introduce someone to a person you know, take the time to do it. Everyone is busy these days with jobs, families, events, commitments — even so, it takes no more than a minute to shoot off an email to introduce two people you want to connect. They can take it from there and do the work — just enjoy being the bridge. Little things like that mean a lot to people and just one introduction can end up changing someone’s life for the better. I’ve seen it happen dozens of times and it’s quite gratifying.
Believe in the power of networking.
When you believe that the true value of networking lies in helping others and you do your part, you’ll soon discover magic happening all around you. The beauty of this approach is that you never know when that magic may cast its spell on you.
Connect the dots.
Once you begin to listen to people and learn what they can bring to the table, you’ll start realizing how one person in the room may be able to help another. Make it a point to connect people you feel have something of genuine value to each other. When you go out of your way to make those potentially promising connections, you’re doing your part to make the networking event a success.
Resist the urge to arrive late.
It’s almost counter-intuitive, but showing up early at a networking event is a much better strategy than getting there on the later side. As a first attendee, you’ll notice that it’s calmer and quieter – and people won’t have settled into groups yet. It’s easier to find other people who don’t have conversation partners yet.
Ask easy questions.
Don’t wait around the edges of the room, waiting for someone to approach you. To get the conversation started, simply walk up to a person or a group, and say, “May I join you” or “What brings you to this event?” Don’t forget to listen intently to their replies. If you’re not a natural extrovert, you’re probably a very good listener – and listening can be an excellent way to get to know a person.
Ditch the sales pitch.
Remember, networking is all about relationship building. Keep your exchange fun, light and informal – you don’t need to do the hard sell within minutes of meeting a person. The idea is to get the conversation started. People are more apt to do business with – or partner with – people whose company they enjoy.
If a potential customer does ask you about your product or service, be ready with an easy description of your company. Before the event, create a mental list of recent accomplishments, such as a new client you’ve landed or project you’ve completed. That way, you can easily pull an item off that list and into the conversation.
Share your passion.
Win people over with your enthusiasm for your product or service. Leave a lasting impression by telling a story about why you were inspired to create your company. Talking about what you enjoy is often contagious, too. When you get other people to share their passion, it creates a memorable two-way conversation.
It’s a simple – but often overlooked – rule of engagement. By smiling, you’ll put your nervous self at ease, and you’ll also come across as warm and inviting to others. Remember to smile before you enter the room, or before you start your next conversation. And if you’re really dreading the event? Check the negative attitude at the door.
Don’t hijack the conversation.
Some people who dislike networking may overcompensate by commandeering the discussion. Don’t forget: The most successful networkers (think of those you’ve met) are good at making other people feel special. Look people in the eye, repeat their name, listen to what they have to say, and suggest topics that are easy to discuss. Be a conversationalist, not a talker.
Remember to follow up.
It’s often said that networking is where the conversation begins, not ends. If you’ve had a great exchange, ask your conversation partner, the best way to stay in touch. Some people like email or phone; others prefer social networks like LinkedIn, Facebook, twitter, or IG. Get in touch within 48 hours of the event to show you’re interested and available, and reference something you discussed, so your contact remembers you.
Posted by: W. Tammy Robinson | Co -founder, COO at Switchit