The biggest mistake people make when networking, is to treat an activity that is inherently relational, as transactional. You can spot them a mile away. They ‘work the room’, they offer their business card and sales pitch before even registering your name. Whenever people are involved, relationship always trumps sales-by-numbers, regardless of what you’ve been told. Here are a few tips that you can employ to become a better networker:
Check your motives:
Remember that guy you got stuck talking to at an event? The one who kept trying to sell you his widget? The widget you had no interest in, and knew you’d never be interested in? We’ve all been in that situation, and we remember those people for all the wrong reasons. Don’t be that person. Networking is a long-term initiative that’s primary goal is to build relationships, not to sell widgets. Yes, you have widgets (or services) to sell. Yes, it’s tough out there and you have targets to make. But, consider what would happen if you had to talk to a person because you were genuinely interested in them, instead of talking at them because you were trying to meet sales targets. Focusing only on sales is disingenuous, and people can feel it and are put off by it.
Network in your industry:
When I first went solo, I attended every kind of networking event you can think of. Not all events are created equal. Many of the events I’ve attended over the years were frequented by people who sell services or products I will probably never need. I’ve met people who sell copiers, who do roof repairs, who sell stationery, and everything in-between. I quickly (ok, not that quickly *sheepish grin*) realised that I needed to be in a different networking environment, so I started gravitating towards events where creatives congregate. I’ve met people I regularly refer work to, and I’ve made friends in the industry. Not only am I in a position to bounce ideas off people I like and trust, but I’ve built a network of people I can call on to do work for clients that I don’t specialise in myself. A win-win situation for everyone involved. www.Meetup.com is a good place to find the kind of events that will work for you. And, if you attend a networking event and feel that you’ve gained nothing from it, see it as a practice run to hone your networking skills.
Become adept at listening:
Being someone who is a good listener will stand you in good stead in all your relationships, not just in a networking environment. It’s easy to talk over someone without giving them the chance to finish their thoughts. In fact, most of us aren’t listening at all, we’re just waiting for our turn to talk. We may nod and smile, but internally we’re planning a response that we can’t wait to deliver. Unfortunately, I’m guilty of this. I’ve developed the skill of pretending to listen and looking interested while I’m actually planning what’s for dinner. It isn’t intentional, but I realised that curtailing this is a choice, it won’t just happen by itself. One way to get around this is to practice active listening. Active listening is the process of listening intently, without interrupting, and repeating the message back to the sender to ensure that you’ve received their message correctly. It’s a different way of communicating, and it will most certainly be a mind-shift, but it’s worth trying if you’re interested in improving the way you communicate.
Take business cards and connect with people:
You won’t believe how often I attend a networking event where I ask someone for a business card, but they don’t have one to give me. This one is a no-brainer. Take the cards, make it easy for people to connect with you after the event. Find the people you’re interested in keeping in contact with, and send them a LinkedIn invitation shortly after the event, when their memory of you is still fresh. Add a note to thank them for connecting with you, and keep in touch periodically. If they post an article they’ve written, read it and comment on it. If you come across something online that you think they might find interesting, based on what you discussed when you met, forward it to them. You would do that for a friend, wouldn’t you? The same thing applies to business friendships. You can’t connect with someone once and expect them to be open to helping you out when you need a favour in two years’ time if you haven’t kept in touch with them from time to time.
Follow up on your promises:
Being trustworthy is such a basic value, but one that is in desperately short supply nowadays. People promise to phone, but they don’t. They promise to send you the link to that article you spoke about, but it doesn’t happen. They promise to connect you to their friend who may need your services, but don’t follow through. I hear my favourite, “we should do lunch”, all the time. It’s become a cliché because everybody knows it’s just what is said, but not what is actually done. This can count in your favour. Follow through when you’ve made a promise. It’s easy to do and establishes your strength of character in the mind of those you’ve made the promise to. Also, it’s just the right thing to do, it’s an easy way to be a better human.
Have a short elevator pitch prepared.
Do not bore people. I repeat, whatever you do, do not bore people. Easier said than done, but it’s possible to have an engaging ‘elevator pitch’ if you put time and effort into it. In this video by Rich Mulholland, he explains how to write the perfect elevator pitch. It’s brilliant and funny. Watch it: https://youtu.be/E_Jl5qmpENQ
You have a network of friends and business acquaintances you know well. When you see an opportunity that will be mutually beneficial, offer to make an introduction. The caveat here is that you should genuinely believe that both parties will benefit from the introduction, and not just use it as an opportunity to impress the person you’re chatting with.
Have a few questions prepared:
Instead of asking someone what they do for a living, try asking them aspirational questions. Ask what they’re working on at the moment that they’re excited about. Ask them what they’re passionate about. You’ll probably find out what they do for a living anyway, but speaking to people’s hopes and dreams elevates the conversation from stifled pleasantries (I hate small talk so much), to a conversation that will probably be memorable for both of you. Catch yourself when you realise you’re about to fall into old patterns. Try something new, I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the outcome.
The strangers you’re in a room with don’t know you. They don’t know that you’re a good person, or that your intentions are honourable. All they have to go on is your body language. The easiest way to be more approachable is to smile at people. I am so guilty of not doing this. I have RBF (Google it, it’s a thing), so I have to be intentional about smiling and appearing friendly. I’ve been quite taken aback at the response I’ve had since I’ve made a point of smiling at people. People find it easy to approach me, and I’ve been complimented on my smile numerous times. If it doesn’t come naturally to you, as is the case with me, be intentional about it. It will be worth your while, I promise.
As always, I’m open to feedback and hearing your thoughts. One last tip: I’ve found that attending talks that interest me has broadened my horisons. There are usually opportunities to network before and after the event, and, at minimum, you’ll walk away with having learned something new. Most of these talks are free, although some of the organisations will try to sell you their programs/services after the event, especially when it’s a free, full-day event. If you’re aware of this, you can make an informed decision.
A few ideas to get you started:
Attend full day events that focus on a certain topic. A good example would be the business building workshop I attended that was presented by Action Coach. I learned valuable, actionable tips that I could apply to my own business.
If you’re female, you may be interested in the upcoming Unstoppable event on 17 September. It’s a free event that focuses on personal and business success. I’ve registered, it looks like it’s going to be informative. This is the link: https://niycpidgeon.clickfunnels.com/optin22324153
Check out Creative Mornings. From their website: “CreativeMornings is a breakfast lecture series for the creative community. They’re free, monthly events that feature a short talk, Q+A and breakfast. CreativeMornings started in NYC in 2008 and has since grown to over 170 cities all over the world. The local chapters not only celebrate a city’s creative talent but also promote an open space to connect with like-minded people. CreativeMornings happen one Friday a month from 8:30am to 10am”. I’ve attended quite a few of these events, and I’ve enjoyed every one of them. This is the link to the Johannesburg website: https://creativemornings.com/cities/jhb
Citi Media: From their Facebook page: "Christians in the Media Industry is an initiative that aims to put God at the center of the media industry. We are inviting you on this amazing journey!" I've attended two of these events, and I'd highly recommend them. More info here:
Until next time,