Friday, March 31, 2017

Hate Networking? Stop Doing It Wrong

How many times have you found yourself in the back room of a swanky uptown restaurant, readjusting your Sharpied-on name tag sticker and furtively glancing around the room looking for someone--anyone--who looks even vaguely familiar?

Maybe you pull out your pocket comfort device and start scrolling the time away; Maybe you slip out early with an exhale of relief. Even if you consider yourself an extravert who can deliver a killer elevator pitch, networking events can feel like they're eroding the last brittle piece of your soul.

When I first struck out on my own, I knew I needed to expand my circle, and fast. Beyond that, I needed to do so in a different state: I'm from Arizona. And in 2009--if you wanted to be in tech--you wanted to be in California.

There are few things more daunting than walking into a strange room, in a strange state and speed dating your way to a healthy LinkedIn profile. The fact is, no one can succeed at business alone.

Who you know in this world is even more important than the ideas you have, and building your network of peers, media outlets and potential partners is vital. Still, the act of 'networking' turns so many people off -- here's what got me through it.

Have a plan

Start valuing the quality of your connections and focus on making introductions that matter. Make a list of people who would have value to you, but more importantly, that you can also add value to, and plan your attendance where they will be. Advice I read is to "get out there and shake as many hands as possible," which to me is as pointless as sending out as many cold emails as possible.

There has to be an element of trust in the room already or else these cold handshakes will just be limp attempts to force a relationship. I chose to start going to software user groups as I could help them for free, in a controlled setting and ultimately they made up the audience I was trying to sell into. After the first event I attended I walked away with three customers and a critical partner.

Birds of a Feather

But alright, I'll acquiesce that you sometimes have to put yourself in the uncomfortable position of rubbing elbows where you simply don't know the attendee list.
The key is to make absolutely sure you're attending the right event. Would you potentially make more valuable connections at a large gala where you're wined and dined, or at a small roundtable with five leaders in the same position as you? No matter your seniority or status, your goals when networking should be focused on mentoring and learning. Do not focus on selling!

Create Backchannels

Larger circles always start with a few key connections. Therefore, create relationships based on going the extra mile for those key gatekeepers you meet. Make it your goal to make these connections feel that they are the most important person in the world.

We send physical gifts to connections we want to foster as a way of breaking through. After you have forged the relationship you can leverage that to navigate into other circles. That's why I hate blanket networking events and try not to send my employees to them. If I can turn to one of these relationships and get an introduction made via LinkedIn, that's critical. Nothing is more powerful than a referral because it breaks the trust barrier.


Get the attendee list. Even if this is just the list of companies who will be in attendance, use it to lay the groundwork for a successful event. You'd be surprised at how many times reaching out directly to the event leader will yield this info. Just make sure to do it verbally - I marvel at the usage of email in these personal exchanges - pick up the phone and call someone.

If you can't negotiate it from the host, start calling attendees you know to see if they have insight. Ultimately, you're trying to get information you can use to introduce yourself prior in a digital format. When I meet someone for the first time and they don't respond with that familiar exclamation, "Hey! Yeah, we just connected on LinkedIn," then I haven't done my job right.

Go Higher

For C-suiters, treat networking groups like a working social hour. Curate your own small group of five or so executives to meet regularly to sit down with the stated goal of helping each other work through problems. Even if you don't all come from the same industry, you'll see how universal business problems can be.

Time is sensitive, but having a trusted growth advisory board or leadership council that can empathize with similar experiences (and stick to a regular schedule) can do wonders for your organization.

Test the Waters

Despite your best efforts to network the right way and call on friends and acquaintances to make introductions, your employer might burden you with mandatory group attendance. Make the most of it.

Even if it means trying out ten groups or events, keep going until you discover which is the right one for you. If you're not sure where to start, ask your boss what exactly they hope you get out of the experience and what they expect you to bring back, and marry that with your own ideas about what you need for personal growth.

Networking is a necessary evil in today's climate, and a bit of an enigma for many young entrepreneurs and seasoned CEOs who haven't been in practice in a while. Before you curse your next networking event, take a deep breath, stick to your goals and remember, it's all about who you know.

Image Credit: Getty Images

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1 comment:

  1. Nice article, well written, but it only addresses the attendees. Successful social gatherings, business meetings, conference, etc. need to be well-planned. I've attended too many networking events (besides WNFP) that have a room, attendees, a host (who speaks briefly) and some food and beverages...and that's about it. Attendees find other folks they've seen at previous networking gathering, and spend most of their time discussing those events, how small the crowd is, or the acoustics, etc., etc. Those who network are most often real estate professionals or financial planners looking to add you to their list should you ever want to buy or sell your home/office or attend a financial seminar. Don't get me wrong these are good people, but most of these events are not well-orchestrated.
    First, i's important to balance the room - 50 people from 40 professions is far more intriguing than 50 people from 5 professions. People should be discouraged from simply building lists and encouraged to attend with an attitude of two way interactions - not just about giving me your card, but finding out what other people do?
    Have everyone take the microphone and spend 30 seconds introducing themselves, say what they do and add what they looking for from the event. Later on, invite, (and give a prize to) the first person who comes up and says what everyone in the room does - pointing them out. Or, do the round robin 30 seconds at a table with different people approach. My point is that networking does take a plan, but it also needs to be well orchestrated. There are many service providers out there who do social media marketing, app building, book and/or blog writing (like myself), voice overs, create excellent You Tube videos and so on who can help business owners grow their businesses.

    I've been to a number of networking events, but only a handful have had great energy in the room where people are really there to listen to one another.


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