Networking’s a pain, right? But you have to do it promote your business. I find that traditional networking groups can feel awkward, because they’re trying to force the creation of the spontaneous, which – as you may know – is not how spontaneity works. A stand-up comedy club has a similar arrangement, where the magic to be created is that of ‘funny’ out of thin air, but it works there because the people on the stage are professionals – that’s their thing (go to a comedy try-out night and you’ll see what happens when amateurs try their hands at it).
We’re all amateurs at networking, of course, and the idea of a ‘professional’ networker sends chills down my spine. To make it really work, however, you just need the right approach. Here are the usual dreadful things that happen at networking events, each counterposed with my crafty, more palatable alternatives:
- You go with the intention of making as many connections as possible. This is fundamentally flawed, because you’re going for quantity over quality. Newsflash: ten cards exchanged may mean zero actual connections (not just LinkedIn additions, but genuine interest in doing business together), whereas one solid conversation may result in the beginning of a serious business relationship.
- You pitch at people. Please don’t tell me your list of services or products; you’re not writing the text for your website, you’re supposed to be making connections. Try having a conversation instead; remember those? Where you exchange experiences and stories, talk without ego and connect on a human level? That’s right, like with your friends. Liking each other is great; it’s what solid business relationships are based on.
- You put on your game face. “How’s business?” “Oh, really well; I’m really busy, it’s all going brilliantly.” Come on, no-one believes that. Tell us what’s really happening, or at last one small thing that didn’t go as well as you’d hoped. Be a real, human being, with flaws and funny stupid problems. That honesty is what people want in a business relationship, plus it can be relatable and even quite funny. Remember laughing? It’s great, isn’t it? Laughing at a networking event isn’t unprofessional; it’s human.
When you go to a networking event, don’t think ‘business’, think ‘personal’. When you go with the intention of having fun meeting people, then any business relationships will happen naturally, on the solid foundation of genuine social interaction.
They may forget what you said — but they will never forget how you made them feel.
By the way, I’m a member of a great networking group called Drive. which uses this philosophy. It’s not for everyone, but those who like it, really like it.