How not to suck at Networking

I’ll be very honest, 90% of the people who go to networking events are there to sell something — their product, their service, or themselves, and the remaining 10% are there for the free beer.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, everyone loves free beer, and everyone wants to talk about themselves, which is great too.

Here’s the problem though — do I really want to listen to you talk about yourself for a good 10 minutes? Not really. Do I care if you think your business is the best in the world? Not really. Do I want to talk to someone who has absolutely no interest in me but expects me to be very interested in their idea? No.

Networking, I believe, is an exchange. A good amount of give-and-take. Let’s be honest, we’re all here to sell ourselves and if you don’t give someone the opportunity to do so, why should they do the same for you?

Well, here are some tips on how to behave better at networking events so that people actually remember you for something other than “that guy who talked a lot about his business and took up all my time.”

Look, smell, and sound the part

So this guy was telling me about his online business and it was a pretty interesting one too but I was very distracted — something was wrong, something smelt wrong. He kept leaning forwards to talk, I kept moving backwards, it was as if we were doing the Tango.

I’ll just say it — his breath smelt bad.

In an enclosed space with a hundred bodies talking over one another, we’re bound to be in close proximity with a potential client, collaborator, or someone who might refer business to you. Do you really want to smell bad?

So my advice is — look, smell, and sound the part. It’s a constant effort, I think, but it requires very little work. If you’re in business, dress like you’re in business. Turning up for a networking event in a sloppy shirt 2-sizes too big with some stains on them, and smelling like you’ve just come from the kitchen of McDonald’s just tells me you’re not taking this seriously.

How will anyone take you seriously then?

Ask questions, and listen to the answers

Don’t just talk. Yes, your ideas and your business, it’s all great. But if you’re going to rattle on about how you can help me, how your business can change the world, I’m going to ask you to slow your horses.

First of all, you don’t know me from Adam. You don’t know what I need, what I want, and by shoving your product or service in my face is not going to make me want it more.

Second, I ask questions because I’m genuinely interested in knowing more, and more often than not, I find out a lot more when I ask questions. Many of the ones I’ve met and actually engaged in two-way conversations with have kept in touch with me after the session to find out more, to share more. Some of them have become my clients, collaborators, and friends.

It’s very simple, you want someone to listen to you, you have to listen first.

Be humble, please

I cannot emphasise on this enough. The countless people I have met who would talk over me, brush off things I say, display cockiness to an unbearable extent, and still expect me to listen to their pitch, it’s like being in a room with huge bears trying to out-maul one another.

If there’s anything I’ve learned organising events and being at them, it’s to always be humble. I am drawn to humility, it’s a very attractive quality. It shows you’re gracious and have a capacity to let others shine.

Humility is not the opposite of confidence, it’s a partnership.

If your business is as great as you say it to be, it’ll come through when you talk, and not in what you say.

Recently I met someone who helps buildings go green and I found him to be very humble about what he does. There was no fluff, no over-selling, no pushy “my idea is fantastic” tactics.

The trick is to ensure people you talk to leave with something they remember about you, and I find that humility is more often than not, memorable.

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So there you go, it’s all a learning process, and we do it a bit at a time. If you ask me, I think I sucked just as much a year before, but I keep my eyes and ears open, talk less, listen more, and try to smell nice.

Article was first published on LinkedIn Pulse.

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