For many of us, the idea of going to a “networking event” is about as appealing as taking a trip to the dentist (for a root canal no less).  Yep, there’s nothing like walking up to a complete stranger, paste that artificial smile, offer a firm handshake and begin that 30-second “elevator pitch” on who you are.   Mind numbing.  Waste. Of.  Time.  A disaster-in-the-making…

Networking isn’t selling. It’s not a place for self-promoting.

Great networking is about exploration, connection. It’s more art than science, yet most people who go to networking events, go looking to “get” something. They’re looking to:

  • Find leads for a job
  • Gain a referral for a business opportunity
  • Gain exposure for their projects, interests or business
  • Opportunities to sell something (prospecting)

And many of these people leave the event disappointed, feeling as though their time wasted – and it was.   Yet others – the ones that understand it’s about giving not getting- with several business cards in hand, leave feeling excited, energized and inspired. What’s their secret? It’s simply this:
They come to these events with only one goal: to explore how they can help others.

Nothing liberates your greatness like the desire to help, the desire to serve. – Marianne Williamson

Networking Pitfalls to Avoid:
“I want to pick your brain.”
“I’d like to meet up with you over coffee”
“I want… I need…”
“Can you do x for me?”

True networking magic happens when there is a focus on connecting with others who share similar interests (and passions). It happens during a conversation, fueled by wanting to help others vs wanting to get something. It’s built from a genuine interest to give without any ulterior motive.

The highest form of networking looks like relationship building: listening to others, discovering their needs, making connections with others you believe can help.  If you do it right, you’ll receive what you need and it will be reciprocated back to you; often in the most unusual ways.

“The mark of a good conversationalist is not that you can talk a lot. The mark is that you can get others to talk a lot. Thus, good schmoozer’s are good listeners, not good talkers.” – Guy Kawasaki

Here are a few Tips to Networking Successfully

1-Get in the Habit of Networking Before You Need To.
People who fail at networking often fail because they wait until great need drives them. They show up to events with an energy about them, an energy of desperation. You don’t want to be there, no one wants to be around you, and it’s just uncomfortable. Professional development, relationship building is something that should always be occurring – in good times or bad. And it’s most effective to do this when times are good.

Come to the event barring “gifts.” Have a clear picture in mind as to what your talents, super powers, strengths and connections are. One way to get at this

2 -Have One Goal: Be Generous.
Come to the event seeking to help others. By being open, honest and genuinely interested (and interesting in return), you’ll discover areas that are of common interest to one or more of your contacts. People respond to generosity and sincerity with the same.     This should be your number one goal: to create moments where you can be generous.

“….relationships take time, getting to know folks requires patience, and people are generally cautious – if not fearful – of Johnny come lately that is asking, rather than giving.” – Jeremiah Owyang, Sr. Analyst at Forrester

3-Find Value in Everyone You Meet.
While first impressions due matter, avoid the mistake of being too quick to judge. Having attended several events, I often see people “write off” a person once they hear the person’s job title. “Oh, you’re not important then.” It’s not spoken, but you can see the shift in body language. It’s sad really. At a networking event, it’s about the person, not the title. Successful networkers judge the quality of the person and not the persona.

“To be successful, you have to be able to relate to people; they have to be satisfied with your personality to be able to do business with you and to build a relationship with mutual trust.” – George Ross

4-Keeping Your Word:  It’s all about Following Up.

Some of the best networking masters I know have turned following up into an art form.  The details vary, but all generally make notes of the impressions people they’ve met made on them, jotted down the key items (interest, what they need/are seeking), took the time to connect the people they met with one or more of their connections and followed up within 1 or 2 days after meeting.

Networking is a big topic, one which is too big for one article.  You can expect to read more about this topic in the coming months, and in the meantime, here’s a fantastic video by Vanessa Van Edwards.  In it, she offers conversation starters that’s sure to take you down the right road towards making a meaningful connection.  She was inspired to create this video after hearing the worst, most awkward, cringe-worthy introductions at a recent networking event she attended.  She invites you to “tuck these awesome nuggets away in your phone or commit them to your memory palace because these starters will spark the best kind of conversations…”