Have you ever met someone at a social or business event that left you scratching your head after talking with them and wondering if maybe they weren’t getting enough oxygen to their brain or if they really meant to be that way? Unless you live at the bottom of the ocean, it’s a given that a strong social and professional network can be a positive force in your life. I recently had an experience with a "networker" that left me scratching my head.
Each month I attend a professional association meeting related to my industry. The meeting format is always the same with the first hour designated as cocktail hour, giving members a chance to socialize and either strengthen existing relationships or create new ones. Many members refer to this a “networking time” as if it’s their only chance to make some special sort of magic happen. That can create a lot of pressure in their minds and make for some interesting behavior.
Networking used to be a dirty word, conjuring visions of wolves running through a room to identify, then pounce and gorge themselves on the most valuable sheep. Now, most unfortunately, it’s a tired, dried up, cliche’d dirty word that draws to mind over confident ramblers verbally vomiting their credentials all over you. Shoving a business card at you with one hand while using the other to stuff their face with light hors d’oeuvres. Meeting a “networker” is an excruciating encounter where you stand there, smile politely and keep nodding, all the while scanning the room in search of someone you don’t like in order to introduce your new best friend to them and make your getaway.
As an introvert I can appreciate the feelings of dread experienced when walking into a room full of people with the sole focus of creating engagement and fostering relationships. I'd rather eat shards of glass, but I manage. At the other end of the spectrum are the extroverts who see this situation as an adventure. I’ve observed that neither is better at creating positive relationships if done correctly.
Here are three things you can do to clearly label yourself as a networking amateur.
1. Tell me about your company first
I'm sorry, did I ask? Let's be clear, I don't care about that yet. I want to know about you first. Who the heck are you and what's your story? What or who do we have in common? Are you creative, neurotic, an avid baker or a cross fit nut? In other words, are you interesting? Can I relate to you? Once we get past that, then it's quite likely I'll be all up in your cheese-whiz with questions about your business. I get it, we're here to network for business, but my business didn't show up to this event, I did. People have to like and trust each other as people before they can engage in business.
2. Shove your business card in my hand
If I want it, I'll ask. Seriously. If we have a delightful chat that leaves an impression it's very likely that I'll want to get in touch with you later. When I do, I'll consult the mighty google for your contact info and I'm sure we'll live happily ever after.
3. Show up sporadically
The specific group I’m referring to here meets every single month! Don’t show up in April and October expecting a standing ovation. Think of networking more like a dripping faucet where you share a little of your value with each meeting building trust and relationships over a period of time. Many folks I see do the opposite by attending only a few of the most interesting events of the year thus feeling the need to speed connect with everyone in the room to reassure them that they are indeed still alive and in business.
My best advice on networking is to avoid reading books on networking, stop thinking of what you’re doing as networking and for the love of little baby panda bears stop calling it networking! Instead, go read books you find fascinating, do non-business things that interest you and above all, help other people in your community. You know what that will make you? It makes you interesting and that attracts people to you.