I attended a very good networking event last night, although it made me realise that you have to approach networking as if it… isn’t networking. Come on, you wouldn’t be hugely different at a social gathering that WASN’T labelled as a networking event (this particular one was entitled “Everything You Wanted To Know About Networking… But Were Too Afraid To Ask”, so it was rather self-aware) so why do you need to be taught how to attend one?!
We did have a really useful session, not only “networking” (we did a speed-networking exercise which I think always helps to break the ice), but talking, sharing, discussing – making our own list of top tips for networking.
However, in the true modern blogger style, I would like to take a moment to look at the “top tips”… and explain why they are false. Ha!
1. Be yourself
Of course, it is important in building good, meaningful relationships that you come across as genuine and authentic. However, be wary of focussing too much on being “real” – people who might use your services or recommend you to others probably want to see the presentable, business-y side of you as well as the fun-loving cat-owner or whoever you happen to be. It is possible to “be yourself”… but still tailor your presentation to your audience. Be cautious of over-sharing (personal stuff) and neglecting to explain what makes you good at what you do. Women in particular find it hard to share successes with others – it can look bigheaded – but do try. My tip would be – don’t say “I’m so charismatic/intelligent” – they can discover this for themselves. Do say “I have been doing this for 30 years/I won an award for my work on X/I’m proud of the work we did for Y.” These are factual statements and, mentioned sparingly, won’t make you look immodest.
2. Manage your expectations
Don’t expect to meet everyone in the room, for example. Have a realistic goal.
Hmmm.. I for one do not go to events, flowing with free wine, banter, interesting people and potential customers/referrers and think “I need to speak to three people”. “I need to give out four business cards.” Maybe this is useful to have at the back of your mind, but I would say goal-setting was a little bit desperado.
3. Prepare your pitch
Obviously, you should know what you’re going to say about who you are and what you do. You should really know this already. But yeah, get it nice and slick and remember the salient points. Feel free to change it up. Practice saying it confidently. BUT be aware of sounding rehearsed, and be aware that your audience may not feel you HAVE included the salient points, so ask for questions once your quick “pitch” is over. Listen to how other people do theirs and try to refine yours to reflect the “best practice” you have witnessed.
I can’t really come up with a reason why you SHOULDN’T listen to others within a networking event – it makes you look good, it allows you thinking time, it allows you to gauge their response to what you might say, and obviously it gives you a chance to find out how THEY might be useful to YOU rather than the opposite. However, don’t JUST listen. Listen “actively” – repeat back what they say to show you are listening and to help yourself remember key facts. Ask questions. Listening isn’t simply about being quiet while they speak.
5. Build relationships
This does capture the idea, which I am a big fan of, that networking is not simply about shoving business cards in people’s hands and telling them all how amazing you are. Quality over quantity is surely key – you would always want to recommend or assist your friends, and that is how networking should work – by making you more friends within relevant sectors. However, don’t spend the whole time gassing with one person and don’t expect to make bezzies. Unfortunately you do have to be rather cynical about networking events – people are there to make useful connections.
6. Don’t dismiss anyone
This is true, you ought not to think that someone’s business isn’t important or useful to you. People are more complex than that, and you also want referrers as well as customers. However, we can all tell when the benefits of a potential referral will never outweigh the excruciating boredom, or obnoxiousness, of an unwanted networking pest. So do be a bit selective.
It is true that you ought not to badmouth competitors or previous clients, no matter how tempting this is. Negativity and criticism is a very unattractive trait.
7. Remember business cards
Well, yes, you probably should. BUT:
– Don’t fiddle with them, or become obsessed by them and treat them like poker chips.
– Don’t give them to people before you’ve even started talking to them – not least because that person will become distracted by your card and stop listening. (It also makes you look like an idiot).
– Don’t hand out rubbish ones. Obviously.
– Leave white space on your card if possible. Carry a pen with you. Write down the most important thing that THAT PERSON (who you have just established a beautiful relationship with) needs to remember about YOU.
8. Make a good first impression
They say that it takes seven subsequent pleasant encounters with someone to make you like them, if your FIRST impression of them was awful. This is what we call a MEANINGLESS STATISTIC, as obviously it depends on so many external/other factors as to be absurd. How awful does the first meeting have to be? How important is it that you like this person? (You might try harder with a friend of a friend, for example.) I have known people, who I found fairly abhorrent, to turn it round rather quickly with some humility, a witty comment or an interesting titbit. So don’t panic too much about your appearance, your opening line or your first impression on someone – but don’t neglect it either!
9. Follow up
I like to send a wee email to people who I have met and GENUINELY ENJOYED TALKING TO after an event, to tell them so. My advice here is quite straightforward – what would you like to receive? A template email from someone you spent five seconds shaking hands with saying how much they liked meeting you and why not check out their great deals? is going to feel awfully hollow. Make your follow-ups genuine and also specific (i.e. not making it look like a template email, and also in terms of where you go from here – do you have a useful referral for them?)
Make them. Make them first. This is all good advice – you can train people to do something by leading by example, certainly. But don’t try to fit a square peg in a round hole. “Oh, you’re looking for a hairdresser?! I haven’t been to one for five years, but I did go to this one once, who isn’t near you geographically, and was distinctly average, and the referral is not useful because that particular hairdresser won’t have the foggiest who I am.” Or “Oh you are a plumber! Give me your card. I will send an email to all my friends tomorrow just basically saying that I have the contacts details of a plumber.” Make good, useful, genuine referrals.