Forget everything you’ve ever been told about networking.
The elevator pitch. Is lame.
The head tilt. This does not make you charismatic.
The target. You’re there to meet people not score.
The business card flip. OK, supposedly you hand your business card face down so they need to flip it and then I guess they look up and see your smiling mug and this somehow helps them remember you…? This is so stupid it’s making my head hurt.
If the above advice has worked for you, that’s great. But I’m guessing for most of us (me included) this advice just adds to the palm sweat that is networking.
Why is networking so stressful?
It’s usually a few people in a room drinking cheap booze, eating miniature quiches and making small talk – so basically like every ‘grown up’ party I’ve ever been to. It’s stressful because we go to these weird set up events not to socialise but because we have an agenda. And that my friends, is the problem.
We turn up to the event early and B line to the far table. We set ourselves up with a drink and eagerly wait for the person we’ve stalked online who we must speak with to arrive. In the meantime, a few other people float by and during the conversation we’re mentally making a note of how many people we’ve already spoken to, and when the least awkward time is to say our elevator pitch and hand over our card.
At the end of the night, we count how many of our business cards we’ve handed out and tally up how many we’ve collected. The next morning at 11am we email everyone a ‘nice to meet you’ message and wait for the work, meetings, and sales to come in but we get nada. We get a little bit sad inside and tell ourselves we need to try the business card flip next time.
Networking is really about making friends
Now imagine if we treated networking events like parties. We show up late with friends and grab drinks before pulling up chairs at the table. We introduce each other and talk about random stuff like the latest Marvel movie, what we love doing on the weekends, and how we all met. We switch seats when someone goes to get food or another drink so we slowly end up talking to everyone in the group.
At the end of the night, we say our goodbyes and remind each other to send the chocolate cake recipe that was mentioned and details on the painter who was recommended. The next morning you receive an email from one of the dinner guests asking if you’d like to join them at an event opening next week. There’s bound to be people there you should meet, you’re told. You go and meet more great people, and one even needs a copywriter! Networking is way less stressful and more rewarding when you treat the experience this way.
Here’s the only networking advice I’ve ever followed
I guarantee it will make you feel less sleazy and you’ll be walking away from networking opportunities with a genuine smile on your face before you know it.
Give without expecting anything in return
When we’re with friends we don’t have an agenda. We’re more likely to give advice, share tips, and offer to help without expectations attached. So that’s what I do when I’m at networking events, I listen like I would for a friend and then I think about how I could help. Sometimes I suggest an article or book to read or a person they should speak with, and occasionally, where appropriate, I offer my services. I find when you’re willing to share your secrets and give a behind the scenes look at your life people are more likely to open up and share their amazing advice too.
Never start by asking “what do you do?”
I think most of us are pretty tired of answering the “what do you do” question. And I’m finding more often what people do isn’t who they are. There’s so much more to a person than their job. Instead, I ask questions like “what did you think of X speaker?” “What made you decide to come to this conference?” and more commonly I ask questions like “I love your earrings, where did you get them?” or “Is this the worst mini quiche you’ve ever eaten?”
I want to get to know them and have a fun and insightful conversation, and that’s hard when they are forced into talking about how they enter data into spreadsheets all day. Talk about killing the mood.
Do what you say you would
Generally, people say they’re going to do something, and really mean it at the time. But life seems to get in the way. So if you’re one of those people that keep your word, people notice. If you have a bad habit of forgetting things then write them down at the time. I even get out my phone while I’m speaking with someone and let them know I’m making a note to send them the famous Brene Brown vulnerability video I just mentioned.
This is one of the best ways to build trust and show you’re trying to build a friendship. So do yourself a favour and follow through or don’t bother to saying you’ll do something in the first place because it will only hurt you later.
Check in once and a while
Every good friendship needs work. That’s why I check in with my networks every few months. I generally send a personalised email letting them know what I’ve been up to, where we could partner, what advice I need, and I always ask what they’re up to and how I can help. Most people return my emails within a few days and they always thank me for getting in touch.
Let’s be honest, a lot of people aren’t the best at staying in contact (friends included). Over the years I’ve recognised the “I was just about to call you” people probably were about to call but they needed a prompt. That’s what my email does. It prompts them. And this is often how I get work and referrals but more importantly invited to be involved in amazing projects that I would never have otherwise.
Now it’s your turn. What stupid networking advice have you been given? And how do you make new friends?
Featured image from Google.