Some people can walk into a room and immediately become best friends with everyone. Others are already best friends with everyone. If neither of these describes you that’s ok. Spend time practicing the skills outlined below.
Arrive on Time
You might be inclined to think that showing up fashionable late is the way to go and it’s easy to see why that makes sense. In this scenario, people have arrived already and you’re not alone in the room awkwardly pouring yourself a drink and staring at your phone. However, this is the opposite of what you should do.
Arriving on time works to your benefit. The room will be calmer and quieter when you first arrive. Grab yourself a drink, put your phone away. During this initial few minutes, you have the chance to make an easy early connection before people have separate out into groups and start their conversations. It’s significantly easier to start a conversation with someone new than to interrupt an ongoing group conversation. Introduce yourself and ask a simple question to get the ball rolling – What do you do?, What brings you here today?, Are you new to town?, etc.
Ditch the Pitch
Networking is all about building a relationship with the potential for future partnerships or business. Your conversations should be informal and light. Walking into an event with a memorized pitch that you recite without prompt will end up hurting you and turning people off.
If someone does happen to ask about your services or products, you should be prepared with a simple and brief description. Keep it brief and to the point. A great way to do this is to take a few moments beforehand and create a mental list of a recent win – a new client, a project you recently completed with success, a merger or investment. Avoid dominating the conversation with a monologue of your business plan or slide deck.
Check your Negativity – and Ego – at the Door
Nobody likes a Debbie Downer, especially at a light-hearted networking event. If you’re going through a particularly difficult day – a lost client or a missed investment for example – take a step back and release the negativity before you step foot in the door. Going into an event with a bad taste in your mouth leaves a negative impression of you and subsequently your business. Focus on the positive, at least during the event.
Everyone likes a winner. No one likes the guy that won’t stop talking about his wins. Leave your ego at the door. Chances are, there’s someone with a better resume at the event. Humbling yourself and actively looking for opportunities to learn from those with more experience or to assist those with less experience creates connections and value.
Don’t One-Up or Hijack the Conversation
Everyone has ‘that’ friend. You know who I’m talking about. The one that can’t wait for your story to end so that he can tell his similar experience with a ‘but’ followed by the dreaded one-up. Don’t. Do. This. I don’t know a single person who enjoys being one-upped and I’m confident you don’t either.
One-upping someone’s experience shows little to no empathy. If you’ve experienced a similar situation, the ideal response to their story would be, “That must have been (insert adjective here – fantastic, encouraging, exciting, difficult, etc.)” Showing empathy rather than detailing how you did the same thing but better creates a bond.
The other side of this annoying coin is conversation hijacking. Sharing information or an engaging story is great, but allow others to join in. Try finishing your anecdote with a relevant question to someone specific in the group.
Learn how to be an Engaged Listener
There’s a difference between listening and active listening. Listening, for most, involves simply not talking while being physically present. Active listening is very different and implies that you are an active participant in the moment. For some, this can be very difficult, especially with someone that has hijacked the conversation. Forbes’ 10 Steps to Effective Listening outlines the best way to be a participating listener:
Step 1: Face the speaker and maintain eye contact.
Step 2: Be attentive, but relaxed.
Step 3: Keep an open mind.
Step 4: Listen to the words and try to picture what the speaker is saying.
Step 5: Don’t interrupt and don’t impose your “solutions.”
Step 6: Wait for the speaker to pause to ask clarifying questions.
Step 7: Ask questions only to ensure understanding.
Step 8: Try to feel what the speaker is feeling.
Step 9: Give the speaker regular feedback.
Step 10: Pay attention to what isn’t said—to nonverbal cues.
MindTools.com has a great tip to help you focus — “If you’re finding it particularly difficult to concentrate on what someone is saying, try repeating their words mentally as they say them – this will reinforce their message and help you stay focused.”
The Five-Minute Favor
In 2011 Fortune Magazine declared a man named Adam Rifkin the best networker in Silicon Valley. What makes Rifkin so special? He. Knows. Everybody. Rifkin’s biggest contribution to the networking world would be the idea of The Five-Minute Favor:
Every day, do something selfless for someone else that takes under five minutes. The essence of this thing you do should be that it makes a big difference to the person receiving the gift. Usually these favors take the form of an introduction, reference, feedback, or broadcast on social media.
You might be thinking, ‘If I do five minute favors for everyone I know, I won’t have any time to do my work!’ Yes, that makes sense. How about just one favor a day. What if you sent one email connecting two contacts? What if you shared someone’s event on social media? What if you provided a positive review for someone’s services? These small things can drastically improve someone else’s day and potentially their business. In turn, you’ve created a reason for that person to remember you. Look at you go, you’re building a relationship!
Take your Time
Business relationships are no different than the other relationship in your life. Wouldn’t you rather create a lasting, mutually beneficial partnership with someone you enjoy being around? Going back to our friend, Rifkin, “Good relationships are built little by little, and there are no shortcuts, so do not try to push the relationship to progress faster than is natural.”
It’s mildly egotistical to think that you are such an amazing person that the moment someone meets you for the first time, they will want to sign on to your first round. Business relationships need time to grow and progress. The key is building trust through mutual experiences over time.
Relationships are natural progressions; follow-ups can be a turning point.
In college, we were given an extra credit assignment. Attend networking events and create new contacts. For every new contact, we were tasked with providing their full name as well as one point of contact for them and one bullet point that pertained to the conversation we had when we met. Every contact earned us a single point on our final grade. Seems simple enough, but if you’ve ever entered a room of business professionals at 19 years old, you know it’s a rather intimidating thought.
This exercise was meant to show us how to create the starting point for a lasting business relationship. The key here is to remember one moment – one project, one service, one comment about an interest made by the other person and then (here’s the kicker) write it down. With the age of digital that is upon this, the task is now much easier to accomplish.
Remembering a key point during your conversation with someone allows you a reason for a follow up. It also means you can use the phrase, “During our previous conversation you mentioned…” Be sure to ask your potential contact the best way to stay in touch. Some prefer their cell, some prefer email, while others prefer social media. Knowing the best way to get a response to your follow-up will significantly increase the ROI on your time.
Networking is where the conversation begins, the rest is relationship building.