Monday, September 2, 2013

The Net Result of Networking

It's hard not to attend any kind of business conference or function without a speaker or break out session
talking about networking. They may talk about the power of the smile and the handshake, the need to have your cards printed and ready to hand out, they want you to prepare your 'blurb' or 'elevator pitch' so that you can concisely say who you are, what you do... and then move on, do it again. At many networking events I have attended it has seemed that more and more people were there simply to pass out their cards, rather than truly connecting. And... if your goal when you head out is to get your card into as many hands as you can by the end of the evening, then I suppose they are doing a good job.

What many networking gurus don't tell you, and what all too many people don't consider when networking, is that we all leave behind something (other than our card) in every interaction we engage in. This is the advantage of going to 'live' events, of getting a bigger message out about who we are than our website or card can convey, because our prospective audience gets to experience... 'us'. Every interaction with someone is a moment in which we are creating an impression of who we are, what we stand for, what we believe in, what we are committed to, what we would be like to work with... and more. These are the elements that truly go into defining our Brand Experience. What can people come to expect of and from us.

Over the course of an evening networking, you may not remember everything someone shared with you that night, but you will recall how they made you feel and think about them. If that memory is positive, you hang onto the card. If not, then the card is filed in the waste basket to the side of your desk. Add the following suggestions to your networking repertoire to keep your card from being relegated to the trash, ensuring that you become a card worth holding on to.

  • Shift your mindset.  Everyone in that room thinks that 'it' is about them.  They are focused on getting their card out, getting a connection that will help them in business.  Instead, shift your mindset so that you too are thinking it's about them.  When you are meeting someone new ask about what they do.  Show interest - don't just look like you're waiting your turn to talk!  Pay attention.  The more you genuinely care about what they do the more they will come to care about you.  Additionally, the more you know about the business they are in, the better you will come to understand how you might serve them in future.
  • Quality over Quantity.  The success of your evening should not be measured by the size of the stack of cards you collected but by the quality of the connection.  Flip through those cards.  If you cannot speak to each, clearly articulating what they do, what their services are and offering some ideas on how you thought you might help them... you weren't asking, you weren't listening and you weren't following the first point!
  • Focus on Service.  Your focus when meeting others should be on: how can you serve them. Think beyond your business.  Maybe it's a book recommendation, or a referral you can give them, or a connection you can make for them.  Networking is not the same as selling.  Form the connections now that might lead to a future opportunity.  Bear in mind, it may not be with them but with someone they refer to you.  First you need to be someone they would be happy to send someone they know and care about to.  
In every interaction we leave something of ourselves behind - ensure that you leave behind the kind of impression that invites others to want to connect with you again.  That's the true net benefit of networking.

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