I really love networking with people. It look me a long time to get comfortable with it but now I'm happy to hang out and talk with people for hours. However, networking isn't all sipping cocktails and making small talk. I hate small talk. Here's what networking really is: finding out more about the person you're talking to and then helping them out.
If you’re new to networking, here are some tips.
1. Listen more than you talk. People love talking about themselves and you can often find out really interesting things after a couple of cocktails (protip: drink less than everyone else). Try to remember if they’re married, kids, hobbies, other interesting stuff like if they used to live in Hamilton. Even better: remember their spouse’s name! You never know when it’ll come in handy or when you’ll meet someone else with similar interests and then you can do introductions. I love introducing people who you just know will get along and watching new connections happen.
2. Seriously, listen. Many people treat listening as a brief interlude before you get to talk again. I’ve done this on occasion, too, when I get excited about a topic and I know better. Resist the urge to jump in immediately. Slow down. Listen. Really pay attention to what the other person is saying.
3. Ask how you can help. You may not need to ask this directly, but during a good conversation, you’ll often hear something that they’re struggling with, a question they have, or something they need. Help them out if you can. Refer them on, answer the question, or send them in a direction that may solve their issue. Even if the question involves exactly what you do for money, give away some advice. I highly doubt that someone won’t need to hire you after you give them 2 minutes of free advice and you’ll likely get either future business or a happy client out of the deal. Don’t be afraid to be more open with your expertise.
(I’m going to interrupt myself here for a brief aside – there is a difference between giving out 2 minutes of advice in a conversation and providing a 1 hour seminar free of charge. Learn where to say “That’s a great question! How about we go for a coffee and discuss this more?” It usually works and then you don’t feel obligated to explain everything you do in detail. And then, at the coffee, you can start the selling process.)
4. Remember. This is usually the part where I fall down. I’m terrible with names, but give me a prompt and I’ll remember details in a second. If you have a patented remembering names with faces trick, please tell me, I need help. Regardless, people love it when you remember meeting them and you remember the details.
5. Don’t Sell. Seriously, just don’t. Don’t ask for business. If you’ve been busy for a while and the person you’re talking to knows that, you can say something about taking on new clients, but don’t sell. Selling should be saved for after the event.
And for the love of kittens, please don’t consider an event’s success by how many business cards you’ve given out. In Hamilton, I saw many events where someone would show up, have 30 second conversations with everyone there, hand out business cards, and ask for the business. That’s one way to quickly gain a reputation but I wouldn’t recommend it.
Great post. Turns out, I’m network the right way. Now help me figure out what to do with the other 396 business cards I ordered for BlogHer this year.