The secret to working networking events — it’s about them, not you
This column comes from my heart, the core of my being. It’s how I make a living. I am a connector, a relationship builder. Note that I did not refer to myself as a networker. That’s a word I don’t like. Back in my earlier days, I was a networker and proud of it, perhaps because I was in the business of selling services or widgets. I was taught that the more people I had in my pipeline, the more successful I would be. Allow me now to dispel that age-old theory.
What exactly is the difference between networking and connecting? Networking is all about quantity, and connecting is all about quality. Many would consider networking events as necessary business activity with the goal being to meet as many people as possible in a limited amount of time. I suggest that networking events can be effective, but only if you’re attending for the right reasons. Go with the mindset that you will make a few valuable connections that can develop into relationships. Here are a few pointers to follow:
• When in a networking environment, don’t cling to one person or group. Move around, but not too much. You’re there for quality encounters, not quantity.
• If at all possible, try to discover who is attending, and do a little research beforehand so that you have a good idea of whom you would like to meet.
• Don’t sit with or mingle with other people from your company. Pick a table where you don’t know anyone, or move in another direction if at a mixer.
• Be interested – not interesting! Use your very brief elevator speech when asked what you do and then redirect conversation to others by asking questions. Ambiguity stirs the curiosity and creates an opportunity to meet again for a scheduled appointment. If you focus on them, they will like you (because you let them talk about themselves), but they really won’t know much about you. That’s exactly where you want them!
• Accommodate your new-found friends by offering to make introductions to them or by suggesting ways you might be able to help them in a sincere and gracious fashion. Remember, it’s all about them – not you. You’re beginning to build relationships on first encounters.
• It is always fun to meet new people, so make sure you go with the attitude that you are going to have fun.
We all learn by examples, so let me provide a few:
Many years ago I attended a few North Chamber events where a particular Chamber member, Joe, would walk in and light up the room. Everyone wanted to be in his presence. He never knew a stranger. He was genuinely interested in every single person he talked with. I didn’t know Joe, but I watched him closely. He exuded confidence in the most understated manner. I wanted to emulate him. Joe is a masterful connector, and it has played very well in his business accomplishments and reputation. Yes, we are friends now, and I’ve shared with him how he impressed me in my earlier years. He was humbled and quite surprised by my confession. I am a better person through Joe’s example.
I met Paula at a North Chamber networking breakfast a few years ago, and I liked her. She knew how to engage people, which was exactly what she did with me. Paula kept the conversation focused on me, stroking my ego. I really didn’t know what she did professionally, but she asked if she could stop by my office to get some advice. There was no way I would say no. She came by my office and spent about half an hour. It was at that meeting I learned Paula had just started a corporate gifting business, and she asked me for advice on how she should promote her business. Later that afternoon, I received a beautifully personalized gift basket as a thank you. She had scoped out my office and seen a couple of pictures of a cat I had at the time and some other items. She included in the basket a cat pendant and other items she knew would be appropriate for me. Though she never asked for my business, she got it. I was so impressed with Paula and what she had done that I used her numerous times for creating gift baskets for me.
Now, let me give you an assignment that will pay off in spades if handled correctly.
• Make a plan to meet one significant person at a networking event. You probably have a good idea who some of the attendees will be. And if in doubt, try calling the host to see if a certain someone has responded. Do some discovery work. Do an Internet search on them. Check to see if they are on any of the social media sites. Learn about them and their company.
• Go prepared and confident to make a good impression. In your most congenial manner, approach your “prey” with an immediate compliment, preferably something positive you learned through your discovery process.
• Following the compliment, immediately ask a question, then another and then another. Let them talk and be genuinely interested.
• No doubt you will be asked what you do. Play it down and be vague. In that moment it’s all about them.
• End with, “I’ve taken way too much of your time, but I am sincerely fascinated. I really want to learn from you and would love to get your advice. Can I give you a call to see when we can get together? I’d greatly appreciate it.”
• And voila – you’ll likely be granted a meeting. Job well done!