As I was preparing a talk for the Washington State Biz Fair this Saturday, I realized that the idea of networking can be intimidating to a lot of people. When the topic of networking comes up generally there are long sighs. It can be people’s least favorite thing to do – myself included. However, we need to think about it differently. It’s really about making connections that will help you and your business, so what’s not to like?
The problem is that most of us are not good at it and not comfortable with it. I’ve been told I’m a good networker and that would be an accurate statement. What I can tell you is that up until a few years ago I didn’t like it much at all, but did it because I knew it was necessary. Networking is really making connections and meeting people who might be able to connect you to the people or things that you are seeking. It’s dating for business.
Why are we typically so bad at it? Let’s be honest, most of us don’t like going up to strangers and making chitchat. It’s awkward and in most cases, a bit of a waste of time. Because we dread it we don’t prepare, and guess what? The outcome we get is exactly what we expected, bupkis.
Let’s start with purpose, preparation and then some tactics to make this necessary venture more successful. First, identify the purpose of why you’re attending the event or gathering. What do you want as an outcome? What would make it worth your time? Once you’ve defined your purpose, then you need to make sure your elevator pitch is “pitch perfect.” Not a 2 minute ramble about you and your business, but a very short succinct message with name, business and one sentence about what your business does e.g. “we provide connections for architects and talent.” Short and sweet and to the point. The other preparation piece is your “ask.” What do you want? “I want connections to architectural firm leaders who need help finding talent.” Remember, it’s not going to be the person you are talking to, it’s going to be who they know, and so on. That’s networking. Casting a wider net that works for you.
Now that you have those two items defined, how do you start? It’s about asking the right questions. You want to make sure they are open ended vs. close ended, (meaning yes or no questions). “Do you have kids?” is a pretty hard stop when the answer is “no.” “What brought you here today?” doesn’t have a wrong answer and gets the conversation started. Other good starters:
- Tell me about your business?
- What are you hoping to find today?
- Who were you hoping to meet?
- Where are you originally from?
Remember, it’s about them, not you. You will get what you need after you build some trust with them.
The best advice I ever received for networking was to go to the person that is standing alone because they are likely as uncomfortable as you are. Don’t crowd into several people engaged in conversation, it’s annoying.
Once you’ve established rapport, then it’s time to ask for what you want. After that, thank them and offer to make an introduction or say you need to catch someone before they leave and move on. The event will fly by, you’ll have had a little fun, and you just may come away meeting your goal and having some valuable new connections for you and your business.