Let Spontaneity Lead You to Higher Caliber Networking
There are a lot of people who Hate (yes, with a capital H) networking events. So, they studying up on how to ‘work’ them. They develop a game plan going in and they psych themselves up to really work the room. They might follow typical tips like set a quota and don’t leave until you meet it, create a ‘hit list’ of people you want to meet, make notes on the backs of cards so you don’t forget, and limit your time with each ‘contact’ (especially if they aren’t a priority contact). How does that sound to you? It’s not bad advice but let’s be honest, it doesn’t sound like it will be much fun?
Ah, so right away you’re thinking, ‘fun? Since when is this about ‘fun’, it’s work!’ It may be a ‘necessary evil’ for entrepreneurs and ambitious workers alike bit it doesn’t have to be like going to the dentist for a root canal. Not only can networking be effective and fun, it can also be far more satisfying to your soul (as in, something you get a lot more out of than a stack of cards). Plus, you can enjoy it – even look forward to – if you follow these more unconventional tips.
1. Be Present
One of the most annoying things about networking is that moment when you meet someone and they discover that you’re not important enough to warrant the contact. You might not be in their network, a big enough wig, or you might not be on their list. Here’s what happens at that moment – their eyes start to work the room; scanning for their next interaction. In that moment they have already moved on. They have all but said, ‘oh, you’re a nobody,’ and walked away mid-sentence. Rude, right? But we’ve all experienced it and (due to self-imposed pressure and expectations) may have done it, too.
If being rude isn’t enough of a reason to get you to stop that, then here’s another reason – you never know who that person might be connected to, might become or might have to offer. For example, I have several areas of expertise. I might introduce myself as a writer and as the conversation continues, it might come out that I also coach people to be super effective on camera or that I know someone (possibly, a powerful person in the room) very well. But old Darty-Eyes has dismissed me as a nobody-writer and will never find out how I might be able (and willing) to help him. Stay present in the situation. Engage in the conversations you start. Take a genuine interest in the person (note the intentional use of ‘person’) you’ve had the privilege to meet.
2. Give Before You Take
All too often, people go into networking events with the attitude of finding people who can do something for them – give them an opportunity, a sale or a contact. Change that up. Instead, walk in thinking, what can I do for the people here? How can I help? This attitude shift may seem counter to the traditional networking model but there are two good reasons to adopt it. Firstly, this takes the pressure of and makes you a much more approachable (because you’re not scanning the room like a maniac looking awkwardly at people’s chest-level name tags). When you go in looking for people to offer something to instead of get something from, the people will come to you.
Secondly, helping people endears you to them. This is not a reason to be helpful, but it is a nice side effect. You’ll make real connections with people and they will remember you (and you card will likely not end up with the others in the bin at the end of the night). Whether you shared some knowledge, introduced them to someone who they were keen to meet or simply picked up the jacket that slipped of their arm – you’ll be the person they remember. Who knows, you might even be considered a friend and that’s a far sight better than a contact.
3. Expect Nothing
At Be More Spontaneous, we always say, ‘disappointment is always preceded by expectation.’ If you want your networking efforts to fall under the ‘win’ category, expect nothing. Don’t go in with quotas of how many cards you need to collect (or give away). Don’t have a targeted hit list of people you have to meet. Don’t put pressure on yourself to share your business mission with everyone who will listen. Setting these kinds of expectations on yourself is going to do one thing for sure – make you feel and act desperate. Not very attractive. And, most people can smell your agenda from across the room (where they will stay).
Instead, go in with an open mind and genuine excitement to meet interesting people and have fun. When you expect nothing of the networking event (not to mention the people you meet) you’ll be relaxed and much more approachable. Who would you be more inclined to walk up to, the person scoping name tags with business cards at the ready or someone smiling, looking around and enjoying themselves?
4. Be Authentic
Do you want to make contacts or connections when you go to networking events? Is your goal to fill up your proverbial Rolodex or actually meet people? What will keep you in the latter of these two options is if you are real, not just a name on a card or name-tag. Be yourself. Give these new connections the honest version of you. Not the elevator pitch of you, not the sales-page of you, the real you.
Yes, time is often limited at these events and you will still encounter people working the room the old-school way. That’s fine. If they don’t want to meet the real you then they can collect your card and move on. But, there will be people who are, like you, in it for the connections and not the contacts and if that’s the case, then you need to be willing to meet them authentically. Not only will you enjoy making these connections more, they will be of a much higher caliber. Quality over quantity is what you’ll get but it doesn’t come if you present a fake front.
Most importantly when networking – stay spontaneous and present in the moment. If you do this one thing, the above will all fall into line.