The thought of networking can strike fear in the hearts of many, including some of the best business developers. A room full of unknown faces. An evening of uncertainty. What will you say? Who will you talk to? How long do I have to stay? These are just a few of the thoughts that run through people's heads before an event. Often to deal with the unknown, we fall back on crutches. These are crutches, because they don't advance our firm's or our personal goals.
Let's explore a few networking strategies that don’t work:
Don’t Be “The Business Card Dispenser”
We all know them. The person who has a goal of handing out 5, 10, 20 cards. As soon as the cards are gone, so is he! This person makes no eye contact and no real attempt to hear your name or what you do. Heaven forbid someone needs their services. This person has one goal: hand out as many cards as possible and go home.
No real connections are made by this person.
Instead, don't count cards, count connections. Real connections. How many real conversations can you have? How many people can you get to know? Start building relationships! If your goal is to make real connections, gain intelligence, and eventually win work for your firm, you’re not going to do it by just dispensing cards.
Don’t Be “The Eater”
The Eater thinks: I'll run to the buffet table, fill my plate, and go home when I'm done. Maybe someone will speak to you in the buffet line. Or you'll find a high-top table, with one to two others, talk with them, and then bolt.
The problem is that this isn't networking; it's eating. Your goal with this plan is to eat and reward yourself by going home. But, you're not at the event to eat. You're there to make connections. One hand on a plate, one hand putting food in your mouth, maybe a glass in hand and you can't talk with anyone.
A better bet is to eat before you go. Having a few passed appetizers at the event is acceptable, but always keep one hand free to shake hands. Make eye contact with others- not with your food!
Don’t Be “The Party Girl”
This networker thinks: I'll get through the night by having a great time with my friends. It's a cocktail party isn't it? You arrive, scope out a couple of friends, run to them, swing by the bar for a cocktail and begin the good time.
Hanging with friends is great, on your own time. You're not on your own time at a networking event. You're on your company's time. You are there to meet people and build relationships that will lead to advancing your firm’s goals – not your own.
Friends are great. Leverage them to introduce you to new people. They can even help fill a lull while you're looking for the next person to talk to. But, if you use them as a crutch, they’ll get in the way of business.
Don’t Be “The Note Taker”
This person is similar to the business card guy. He talks to 6 people (or some pre-set number), asks each the same questions, takes notes and moves on to the next victim. This person is so busy taking notes and looking down at his notes that he forgets to make eye contact. He probably couldn't tell you afterwards what the person looked like, let alone who they were and what they did.
A good networker gives and takes. They listen and conversations flow. Maybe you meet a potential client, maybe a new friend, but at the very least you each enjoyed the conversation for however long it lasted.
Don’t Be “The Lush”
No one likes a drunk. The drunk is remembered, but not for the right reasons. The drunk makes no connections, and no business is done with the drunk.
Don’t Be “The Talker”
This is the man or woman who talks and talks and talks to get themselves through the evening. We've all met these people. They ask you no questions. They answer every question. They probably even laugh at their own jokes. You can't get away from them fast enough. Who can you dump them on?
This person is not making any connections. They've forgotten the key to communicating - listening!
Not sure what to say? Practice before the event. Create a short list of questions that you can ask when you meet someone new. What do you do? What do you like about your job? What do you do for fun? Remember to listen and look for similarities to engage further. You may discover a potential client or gain insight about an upcoming project. But, it’s not going to happen if you talk and talk and talk and talk.
Do Be “The Planner”
These crutches are easy to fall back on, but they’re big networking mistakes. Use them and you’ll fail miserably. Instead, successful networkers have a game plan. They ask for the guest list ahead of time. They strategize who they want to meet and what information they want to learn. They arrive early and read the name tags. They scan the room upon arrival to see who’s there. They have an exit strategy if they get cornered by one of the non-performers discussed above. If they get nervous, they think back on the plan, breathe, and refocus. When the evening concludes, they go home and update their CRM with all the new intelligence. The planner is builds relationships and wins work.