Often the word networking conjures up images of someone running around frantically trying to shove his or her business cards into as many hands as possible. If this describes you — stop doing this now. If it describes anyone you know — then share this article with them. Believe me, they’ll thank you for doing so. Trust me, paper-cuts make a terrible first impression.
If we are really honest what I described above isn’t that uncommon an occurrence is it? It’s enough to make one want to just avoid the business meeting or mixer altogether isn’t it?
These drive by networkers can really give the art of networking, connecting, or plain old meeting and building relationships (if you’re not into professional buzzwords) a bad name can’t they?
As a general rule, there are two reasons people take this broken approach. One, in the rarest of cases they are just rude, and really don’t give a rip what you do, nor do they care to make the interaction a two way, win / win connection. Fortunately, that’s rare, but we have to be real here. Sadly, there are the few who just don’t get it. These folks are looking out for themselves first (and really, just themselves). The ideas I’m going to share with you here are not for those people.
Frankly, a person has to get beyond the “what’s in it for me only” approach to networking before anything will really work for them. In most cases you will find that people who are ineffective in their approach to professional connecting is because they just haven’t ever been taught a better way to go about things. For those that fall into this camp, the ideas that follow will be immensely helpful. You must apply what you learn, but as you do, you’ll see incredible results.
Change your mindset from “me, me, me” to the person who introduces others and creates winning interactions…
This works for a very simple reason. Because pretty much everyone else in the room is thinking about one thing, how they can start a conversation focused on sharing what they have to offer. While that’s not totally a bad thing, after all, in most cases it is the ultimate purpose for being at the meeting, especially if it’s a professional one. It doesn’t exactly take a genius to figure out there’s going to be a challenge if everyone in the room is simply focused in on getting their point across.
Therefore, one of the simplest things you can do is to do the opposite of what everyone else is doing. The best way I found to do that is to become a valuable resource. And in a room where everyone is focused on getting their message across first — the easiest way to become more valuable to others is to take it upon yourself to be an introducer of everyone else in the room.
Here’s how it works — rather than making things about you, lead the conversation and make it a priority to introduce different people to each other. Especially where their knowing each other might be of some mutual benefit or synergy to their connecting. Yes, it is that simple.
This works for a number of reasons. One being that it takes the pressure off of you which can often build up when you’re focused on meeting strangers and pushing your own message to those you don’t know. Plus the two people that you connect will be appreciative to you for having introduced them. That in itself makes you more valuable to both those people.
Lest you think you’re going to be left out make no mistake that both those people are not only going to appreciate you but probably also think about you on a higher level — because you went above just thinking about yourself. You put their greater needs above yourself. This is far rarer than it should me. I can assure you this is a good light in which to be viewed by your peers.
You better believe that the people you put first will absolutely want to know who you are, and what you have to offer. And one of the best parts about this approach is that you were able to get your goal of sharing about yourself and what you have to offer delivered in a very low key way. Zero pushiness involved.
I’ll readily admit the idea above is unconventional, but make no mistake that’s exactly what makes it so effective. Give it a try the next time you find yourself in a professional setting or for that matter any type of meeting where the opportunity exists for you to be a matchmaker putting the wants and needs of others above your own. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results.
It’s also worth pointing out that inevitably during the conversation even though you’re focused clearly on connecting the other two people for their benefit the conversation will turn towards you where you have the opportunity to share a bit about what you do. Again steer the conversation and keep the focus on the two people you connected but don’t completely resist the opportunity to share a little bit about yourself as well. After all in the context of the conversation it’s only normal that you do so.
Use props to initiate conversations — and as conversation starters…
For some people even knowing how to start a conversation with someone they have never met is difficult. One simple thing you can do is to get creative with stick on name tags. Generally these will be provided for people attending the particular event (you might even consider keeping some handy in case they aren’t provided). Most people will simply include their name. What I will often do is go a step farther. For example, I’ll write something that’s more likely to begin a conversation. I’ll include my name on the name tag and then something else such as asking a question.
Here are a few examples I would write on the name tag:
- My name. Tell me about your business.
- My name. What business are you in?
- My name. What do you love most about your company?
- My name. What is the name of your company?
- My name. Tell me about your company so I can potentially refer you business.
Those are just some random examples, but it will amaze you how effective such a simple idea can be in getting people to initiate a conversation with you. Think about it, in most “networking events” people are looking around to meet and share what they do, and talk about their companies.
Just like you they are probably not completely comfortable with the idea of walking up to strangers and starting a conversation either. Much less getting that conversation to a point where they talk about their business or companies offerings. Friend, you have made it completely easy for them. Most people are looking at everyone’s name tag anyway. At the very least it’s a conversation starter.
You’re doing something different. You are different because unlike the majority of people in the room or at the event you’re making it clear that you’re more interested in learning about others first. And believe me, when you take the time to put the interests of others first, they will engage you in conversation about what you do as well. Everything is just a whole lot more comfortable taking this simple approach. Give it a try and I’m confident you’ll find it to work very well.
Be awesome and have fun in business!