Networking is one of, if not the most powerful way of getting ahead in this world but...most people don't do it! Why not? Often it is because they are self conscious, unskilled at conversation or they don't feel comfortable "selling" things to people. Well, none of these things should stand in your way of becoming a great networker and here is a re-frame that has helped me get over my dislike of networking:
Make networking about finding a way to help the "other" guy and not about you. How can you help the person you are speaking with be successful?
I admit it. I used to be terrible at networking. It always felt to me like I was selling something or that I had to pretend to be someone I am not. It just felt gross!
Then I read a book called: "Work the Pond" by Darcy Rezac and I have not looked back since. This book is full of great tips and strategies for networking - many of which I use all the time. I highly recommend this book if you want to become a really great networker.
However, if you are reading this site it is probably because you don't want to read 400 pages on networking - you just want the good stuff! That's exactly what you get here!
So - why is this re-frame so powerful? Well it absolutely transformed how I looked at networking from a slimy awkward thing that I had to do into an interesting and positive experience that I love to do.
Think about it - most people want to help someone else. Networking is all about engaging someone to see if there is anything you can do to help him or her out. How simple is that? No awkwardness, no selling - just genuine interest and curiosity.
Don't think you can help someone else out? How do you know? You help may be a simple as connecting them with someone else you just met! It could be recommending a great restaurant that you loved or a really inexpensive but great bottle of wine. Don't think that you have nothing to offer. If you have been on this planet for more than a week - chances are you have some relevant and important information to share.
So - if we look at some of the key reasons people don't network, one of the top ones: "I don't feel comfortable doing it", should be addressed by the re-frame to make it about helping the other person.
Next up in the excuse list is: I don't know how." Well we can certainly help fix that! Just keep reading. As for lacking in skills - hey - remember the home page of this site? Use your Success Buddy to help you out. Practice with him or her. Challenge each other to attend networking events or parties. Anywhere there are groups of people you don't know is a target rich environment for networking.
Here is another thought on this subject. MOST people are uncomfortable with networking so if you are even a little bit good at it you will automatically be in a place of greater comfort and confidence than most other people. And... you will automatically have something to help that other person with!
So let's start with the basics. While it is possible to network in almost any situation, there are some places that are just ideal for networking. So the first thing we have to do is find a situation or environment that will allow us to do some networking. For tips on how to find great places to network, click here. However if you have already been invited to a party, reception or other event then let's move right on what to do when you get there.
Often if you are at a formal event there will be a sign in table. In some situations your name tag will already be there for you on a weird string thing that you hang around your neck. The other popular option is a sticky tag that you stick to your clothing somewhere. In either case, remember to make sure your name tag is at chest height.
For the sticky tags this usually isn't a problem as they will typically go on your shoulder just above your shirt or suit pocket. Please put it on the same side as the hand you use to shake hands with. This is another great Darcy Rezac tip - as you extend your hand people's eyes will be drawn to your name tag. It's just easier this way!
The name tags that hang on strings should also be adjusted so they are at chest height so people can see them easily when you are greeting them. I have seen them dangling down below the waist and not only are they hard to read, do you really want people gazing at your crotch?
One other tip is worth mentioning here. Often when you sign in you will be given a bag full of stuff. My preference is to take the good stuff out of the bag (usually a pen, some paper, and the agenda or itinerary) and toss the rest. Why? Simply because I want to keep my hands as free as possible. If you don't have a suit coat or purse to put these goodies in, you may wish to keep the bag but I like to wear clothes that allow me to store the important stuff and keep my hands free.
There are two different schools of thought on drinking at a reception (and I don't make any distinction here between alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages). Having a drink in hand can give you the comfort of "fitting in" and for some reason a lot of people feel less awkward when they have something in their hand. If you do want to have a drink in hand, click here for some thoughts on how to go about it. Of course no one reading this website needs to be told not to become inebriated right?
There are a number of different ways of approaching people to engage them in a networking dialog. My preferred tried and true technique is to pick wall flowers. Why? Quite frankly this is an easy thing to do with a high chance of success and very low "ego" risk. In other words, these are the easiest people to meet and often are delighted that you want to talk to them at all.
So - scan the room or venue for someone standing by themselves. There are always a few of these at every event. Sometimes they are waiting for a friend to show up - no matter - right now they are waiting to talk to you!
We'll cover off how what to say to them in just a second but I also want to mention my second favorite technique which is the ambush. Quite simply, the ambush is just like picking wall flowers but it is more proactive because you approach people as they arrive at the event. This is before they have had a chance to find their buddies or hit the bar or do much of anything. I love this technique because firstly, you don't have to interrupt a conversation and secondly, often after you meet these folks, they invite you over to the group they were heading to join in the first place and "presto" even more people to network with!
A third technique that Darcy Rezac uses but that I don't often use is something he calls the "hover". If you are curious about it, click here.
Okay this is action time. You have someone in your sights and you walk over to them, extending your hand and introducing yourself. Don't make this complicated - its not! For tips on shaking someone’s hand, click here. All you need to say is: “Hello, I'm Gord Aker." which will invariably cause them to shake your hand and respond with "Hi, I'm Suzy".
Phew, glad that's over!
Hey, wait a minute, you have just met them, you haven't started networking with them yet! Its time to get curious! Here are some key conversation starters:
For other tips on starting a conversation, please click here.
One of the key things about networking is not to monopolize someone's time or limit yours to meeting just one or two people. Keep in mind this process is about engaging with people to see if you can help them out in some way. If you do "connect" with them in some fashion, by all means follow up with them at a later date.
It isn't necessary to attempt to solve world hunger at a networking event! Keep things light and curious and note whether there is a good connection between you. Before you break off the dialog make sure you get their business card and be sure to offer them yours. Click here for more info on business cards. It is critical that you get their contact information if you want to follow up with them. Don't leave the possibility of future connection to them. Make sure you get their contact info!
Most networking conversations have an ebb and flow and it is obvious to both parties when a natural break occurs and you can move on to meet someone else. Sometimes though you may have to take the initiative and break off the conversation. Remember the idea with networking is to connect with a half dozen new people and determine if there is reason for future conversations. You are selling the opportunity short if you stick with one willing victim, er... I mean person all evening long!
So how do you break this off? Simply, be honest by saying:"Well, it has been a real pleasure meeting you Susie and there are a number of other people I would like to connect with this evening. Let's reconnect in a week or so to talk about that sales opportunity." Another option is: "Susie, if you will excuse me I have just spotted a gentleman that I have been wanting to connect with for some time. It has been great speaking with you tonight and I hope you have a great event."
Sometimes, even with the polite disengagement, people will continue to rattle on. As a last resort, you can always use: “If you would excuse me Susie, I need to visit the restroom. Do you know where they are?" Just make sure you actually go!
Okay so if this is your first kick at this, you may feel exhausted but if not - repeat this procedure until you have formed decent connections with a half dozen people or so. In the meantime, you will have met some interesting people, learned something about their work, recreation and family situation and potentially have new business leads, job prospects or friends. Hey - it’s all good!
Probably the biggest mistake people new to networking make is not following up. Remember this is a relationship! So the first rule here is if you have committed to something, e.g. connecting someone or providing some information - please do it! Nothing kills credibility faster than committing to doing something and then failing to follow through
The second thing about following up is to make sure that you do. Send the people you found interesting an email a few days after the event where you met them. Even if it is just a note saying that it was nice meeting them and that you appreciated the opportunity to learn about x,y or z. The important thing is to connect. After the initial connection - put a reminder in your calendar to reconnect every 3 to 4 months. I find this is a reasonable time-frame just to check in. Ideally, you will find a good excuse to have a coffee with the person but even just sending them a note is often enough.