I tend not to go to many formal networking events these days. I don’t particularly like people thrusting a business card into my hands only to get mine in return and then bombard me with sales and marketing e-mails, or those that move on when they decide a communication trainer is perhaps not a potential client. Instead, I make time to go to events that I am interested in, perhaps a talk at the RSA, a book launch, an opening of an exhibition or an event at Central. I often see familiar faces and there are many new ones too. This provides me with all that I need and I enjoy the experience too.
First let’s look at why ‘networking’ events can be a painful experience for me and I’m sure I’m not the only one.
1. Pretence (e.g. I’m not after clients, I really just want to meet new people’)
There comes a time when some people feel they need to go to a networking event and it’s usually because they need some more sales. So off they go. Their strategy is to get as many cards as possible, take them back to the office, enter them into the database and then proceed to call them, e-mail them and get them to be a client. Sometimes, this person also suffers from 2 and 3 below which makes life a lot harder. They pretend that they are just meeting new people and come across as insincere because they are just trying to work out if you are a potential lead. I am quite happy when someone comes up to me at networking event and tells me they want clients (doesn’t always work if it is your opening gambit but if you say that is what you are looking for, then I will try to help).
2. You’re not worth knowing
‘So what do you do?’ After your response you may find one of two things happening. The first is that this person is very interested in you almost to the exclusion of others. They don’t let you go until they have explained the full benefits of their service/ product and they also don’t let anyone else steal you away. Contrariwise, they find a quick way to end the conversation. It doesn’t matter whether you probably had lots in common and also have access to a huge number of people who you could refer onto them, they need to find someone they think is worth their time.
3. I really don’t want to be here
This can be a symptom of no. 1. This person hates meeting people but they need more contacts and the only way to do that is to go networking. Another reason they may not want to be there is they lack confidence when meeting new people. These people often hover around the edges, waiting for someone to draw them into conversation. Often, they will be happy just to be talking to someone and can feel that networking events are not the best use of their time.
So how could it be better? It might, at this point, be worth looking at the definition of ‘networking’
a supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups having a common interest
I mentioned I go to events, and one of my reason for doing this is that there is some commonality of interest that draws us all there. It is a great talking point and so can help break the ice if you’re not comfortable with approaching people. I also find that I generally will get on better with people I meet at these events and therefore want to help them.
1. Know your intention
Before you go to an event work out why you want to go. If you want to get potential clients then do some research and go to events where your clients are likely to be. If you have specific people you want introductions to either find out where they will be or find out who else knows them. It can also be worth finding a guest list and asking someone to introduce you to a specific person. Are you trying to get known in your industry? Having a clear intention will help you make the most of your time at an event.
2. Strengthen relationships
Networking is not all about new contacts, it is also about strengthening and maintaining existing ones. Don’t just talk to new contacts, talk to people you already know. Indeed, they may be the one who introduces you to other people at the event. The last two events I went to I was introduced to valuable new contacts when in conversation with someone I already knew.
3. Add value in your conversations
Networking, like any team sport, creates a win when everyone plays their part. Be a valuable member of your networking community and in the individual conversations. This might be sharing some of your knowledge, offering to make an introduction. Don’t do it to get something, do it because you can.
So what do you do with that pile of cards you collected last night? Make sure you follow-up within 24 hours (48 hours if you are really busy) with an e-mail or a LinkedIn invite. With both methods make sure you personalise it by referring back to an aspect of your conversation. If you offered to introduce someone to one of your contacts then do so in a timely fashion and don’t forget to follow-up with people you already knew. I usually send an e-mail or sometimes even a text saying it was good to see them.
What are people’s experiences of networking? What tips can you offer to others?