Because I don't like it, I've read all the books, attended workshops and asked lots of people who are good at it what their secrets are. From all of that, I've pulled together the things that have made me better at networking and also better able to tolerate it.
It's not all about you. Keith Ferrazzi's book, "Never Eat Alone" taught me a lot about networking, and the most important point is, it's not about you. If you spend your time meeting people and trying to see if there is a way you can be of help to them, you put your mind in the right order and it is easier. Why? Because you may not be a great networker, but you are a great problem solver. If you can help someone else with an issue, idea, or contact, you are working in the sweet spot of your skills. Along the way good things will happen for you, too.
Set your goals. When I attend an event, I typically have between 1-3 people I specifically want to meet that I have picked out in advance. If they are not there, or they are completely encumbered, I go to my back-up goal. Set a number of new people, let's say five or 10, who you are going to meet, ask two questions, and swap cards with. Once you have hit your number, you are off the hook. You met your goal and you can go home, see a movie, catch the end of the game at the bar, it doesn't matter. You set a goal and you hit it. These networking events are not a prison-sentence if you don't make them one.
Ask good questions. "What do you do?" "Tell me about your company" and "How long have you been with your company/this industry/this association?" are all typical openers and they get typical answers. Boring. Try a few other questions instead:
- "What business problem does your company solve?" "What is the best example you have of how you are doing that?"
- "What has been the biggest win for you/your company in the last six months?" "What do you think it will be in the next six months?"
- "What is the most interesting initiative you have planned at your company this year?" "How will that change your company the most?"
Exit gracefully. I watched a real pro work a room at a cocktail party the other night. She would introduce herself, ask a question or two, ask if she could help and then she would simply put her hand out to shake hands and say, "It has been so nice to spend a few minutes getting to know you, I hope you have a great spring." She would smile graciously and just move on. She took the initiative to introduce, she controlled the conversation with a few questions, and then she exited. There is a courtesy to be observed at a networking event that involves not monopolizing someone's time. This rhythm that she set was the right tempo to accomplish what a networking event should accomplish.
You should come away from the event with:
- Business cards of contacts with any commitments you made written on the back of the card for you to follow up on the next day
- A few new prospects or industry contacts
- More information about your industry, competitors and clients than you had on the way in.
- Take your business cards to the event.
- Be the first to put your hand out and introduce yourself, every time.
- Send a quick email to every person you have a card from the next day. Thank them for their time and the opportunity to meet them. (This has ridiculous ROI.)
- Don't bitch. Just because this isn't your thing, no one wants to hear that you hate it, the food is bad, the place is loud, the people are weird... You're there: do your job and go home.
flickr photo courtesy Orin Zebest/CC 2.0.
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