Thank you Andrew Vest for much of the content of this and to Veronika Monell for sharing.
Most people attend networking events to gain something: job leads, referrals, exposure, connections, opportunities to grow their business. Having been to more than 100 networking events over the past 15 years, I’ve seen plenty of these eager people leave disappointed, dismissing networking as a complete waste of time. Worse yet, I have seen companies ignore this old school, retro, powerful way to build businesses.
But I’ve also experienced the opposite. I’ve seen and been with the people who walk out with a handful of business cards feeling happy, inspired and excited. The major differences between these two groups of people include these: the people who leave on a high note are those who attend with just two goals in mind — they are in the long game, and they wish 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. 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 8.5 ways to network successfully and have fun doing it.
1.Start networking before you need it.
Seasoned networkers can smell the stench of desperation from across the room. Haven’t you? 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. Insider’s tip: people are seeing if they want to network with you. So instead of advertising, be your best self. By networking when you have no ulterior motive, you can begin to build relationships and a reputation for being generous rather than self-serving. More on this later.
2.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 at a non-profit, but they may have valuable connections or knowledge you’d never learn about if you’d dismissed them.
Then, when the conversation ends, remember who they are and what that person has to offer as you move to the next.
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. Insider’s tip: leave things like,”We synergistically innovate in collaborative methods to attain….”
4.Forget your personal agenda.
While you may be tempted to network just to land a new big client (or new job) or talk to people you normally wouldn’t have access to, that’s a mistake. Insider’s tip: 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. Sales is the most giving profession in the world, when it is done right.
5.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. (Remember, forget your agenda?)
6.Figure out how you can be useful.
To quote our President, “This is YUGE!” 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 day, 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” and present your business card.
7.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.
8.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.
8.5.Actually be prepared to give something at the meeting.
Here is an example – at many Networking events there is a time when we can briefly present who we are and what we or our companies do. Sometimes, use that 90 seconds to give away a sales strategy or tactic that has been extremely effective for you. At the last event I attended, (last week), I was able to present a fantastic way to get the most out of networking every time. This has been tried and proven true all over the country.
So remember the Power of Networking is in actually Networking. Your network will do more for you than you could. Those 30-40 people who see you as a caring, giving person who strives to help them, will want to help you to be successful. And then, networking will end up being a gathering of people committed to helping others in the group and eventually grow to those outside the group. Wow! That is fun to think about.