Why I Can’t Stand Networking and What I Do Instead
Don’t Just Sell Yourself at Networking Events. Build Relationships.
We all know the scene. You walk into a room full of new faces, shake hands, introduce yourself, tell people what you do, exchange business cards like you’re dealing poker cards and then immediately determine if the individual you met is a prospect for business or not. These gatherings known as “networking” events, or these days, “speed networking,” are ones I tend to avoid for two key reasons:
1) Most people that attend these events are there to strictly take care of themselves and no one else. Sounds selfish, right? But yes, it’s true. The typical person on the hunt to “network” is easy to spot. They speak about themselves and what they do and go home trying to figure out how to make that person a business lead.
2) Networking, as most people know it, is ineffective because the relationships created are shallow and typically a one-way street. A true and genuine relationship, which takes two to tango, is never established and most people walk away with just having been “pitched all night.” There is no emotional connection within the relationships made at the event.
So then how can you best take advantage of meeting new people at business events or social gatherings? You need to change your mindset to think about building actual relationships, and not simply selling yourself. This requires some research, poise, and strategy, but will reward you with stronger relationships. Below are 3 tips to consider the next time you’re in a crowd of strangers looking to network:
1) Instead of “what can they do for me,” think “what can I do for them?” The ability to help someone out delivers satisfaction on both sides of the relationships, and in turn, creates a 2-way street. When a relationship goes both ways, it becomes a true relationship in which the connections is more meaningful than just having someone be a business prospect for you. So, change your mindset and be a giver, and no matter what you do, do not expect anything in return. What goes around comes around, in one way or another.
2) Get to know as many people as you can on a personal level. A non- business prospect may be just as valuable as a potential business prospect. Why? People are connected and your new friend who has nothing to do with your business goals may know someone who does or may be able to help you with something that brings you value or happiness. Perhaps his or her children will get along with yours or perhaps they become your new running or book club buddy. The more people you know, the more people you’re likely to meet and finding commonalities amongst these people will lead to a stronger circle of friends and business colleagues for you.
3) Do some homework and research. People you meet take it as a compliment and are grateful that you have researched what they do, their backgrounds, their education and so forth. It’s good homework for building a more engaging discussion and the people you meet will be grateful that they don’t have to be asked, “So what do you do” for the 20th time that evening. By researching the themes of the event and/or who will be attending, you’ll be more prepared to have intelligent and engaging conversations. I once met a good friend’s college roommate at an event simply by researching her education and the year she graduated. That initial connection led to an instantaneous warm friendship and coincidentally, a business partnership because we traded stories about our mutual friend. Yes, the world truly is small.
So next time you’re invited to a networking event, change your mindset to consider meeting new people and see how you might be able to help them. Instead of telling people what you do, tell them why you do it. For example, “I get satisfaction out of seeing people make changes to lead more active and healthier lifestyles.” This type of conversation point encourages a more personal and emotional conversation and sets the stage for a deeper connection and more of a real relationship.
In my business of Marketing and PR, I trademarked “Public Relation(ship)s” because I believe strongly in real relationships and frienships. Whether I help line stories up for writers and editors that have nothing to do with my clients or help someone find a job, it gives me tremendous satisfaction and also strengthens the relationships. This beats an unfulfilling experience of ‘working a room’ to listen to an overload of small talk that quite frankly, no one is interested in. Bottom line: networking is about building relationships and finding satisfaction within them — it’s not about simply selling yourself.