Networking Effectively - My Top Do's and Don'ts
Last week, I attended a University alumni event and had a great time – met many wonderful people and learned so much in a single evening. I started reflecting on why I had such a good time, and whether others also had a good time. I believe many people misunderstand networking opportunities and might even decline the invitation. However, I find in my own life experience that networking is the most powerful method of achieving our personal and business goals. Several opportunities came my way simply because I struck up a conversation with an unknown person. This even led to significant career changes – changes that I could not have anticipated or planned at all.
So let me humbly share my Do's and Don’ts when it comes to networking.
1. Accept invitations for networking events.
Many people are afraid to reach out and speak with unknown people and therefore reject these opportunities and don’t attend. This is a huge blunder – you are missing the opportunity for learning, and business and personal growth. With effective networking, you can gain quickly what takes years to accomplish without it. If you feel unprepared, take steps to prepare yourself and build your confidence and ability to be an effective networker. Attend a seminar, listen to a podcast, practice with a friend. Do what you need to do to feel more comfortable and confident to put yourself out there. Someone once said your net worth is equal to your network – think about that!
2. Enter the room with a positive, enthusiastic, and excited frame of mind.
If you feel tired, gloomy, and reluctant, your body language will project these emotions for others to read. The message your body will give is “leave me alone”. Instead, you will benefit the most by being excited about being there and about meeting new people. A friendly smile, a firm handshake, and a relaxed composure will go a long way to benefit you. If you emit positive energy, many people will naturally be drawn to you. During this particular alumni event, someone approached me and said “You look like an important person, so I wanted to meet you.” How is that for a positive response?!
3. Be sincere about your desire to help others.
Some people feel they should promote their businesses by practicing their elevator speeches and communicating their value proposition concisely. This is a very short-sighted approach that may bring some results, but it’s not what I recommend. Instead, if you are sincere about helping others achieve their goals and take a true interest in their lives, this will bring about the best. We do not get new business by handing out business cards to strangers. This is a big misconception about networking. If you are sincere, you will build trust and friendship, and this will bring business in a much bigger way. Work on getting to know people and helping others. This will result in those people connecting you to their networks and helping you with your business and professional growth. Think in terms of the difference between farming and hunting. When you hunt, you may get one reward now, but when you farm you get an abundant harvest, even if you had to wait for some time.
4. Find out what the other person cares about and then discuss issues you both care about.
If we listen sincerely, we will learn a lot of important things about the other person. They will tell us what they are working on, they will explain their expertise and their experiences. Then we can discuss our own interests and find common ground. To give you some examples, during last week’s event, I had a discussion about fraud with a lawyer. He specializes in that area and I teach about fraud prevention. With another lawyer, I discussed the role of law in society and the ethical dilemma of defending those who have hurt others and performed criminal acts. I was sincere about this issue as I see the CPA profession as ethical, and wanted to know whether lawyers consider ethics when they defend criminals. I happened to also strike up a conversation about unrepresented litigants with a lady who is part of a research project on this issue. Another person was a Blockchain Specialist and we discussed preparing a Blockchain course for CPAs, and are setting up a meeting for next week. So my point is, listen to what others are doing and see how it relates to your interests and to your life.
5. Speak with everyone – don’t look for the important people only.
I make it a point to speak with bartenders, wait staff, hosts, facilitators, photographers, emcees, A/V staff, and everyone else who is there to make an event a success. So many people contribute to our success by doing their part. I believe we should treat all people with respect and acknowledge that their work helps us with our work. Sure, the powerful and important people will be on the stage and will make presentations, but ultimately everyone is important when it comes to our lives, our careers, and our business growth. Just as we look for those who can help us move our agendas forward, it is important for us to help others progress in their lives as well. Those others are often not on the stage.
6. Take photos.
Taking photos is a fun way to remember an event and relate with others. At this event, I took photos with my phone and shared them with the people who were in the photos. This might not be your cup of tea, but it certainly makes for a visual recollection and helps you remain connected to old and new acquaintances. One word of caution – be aware of lighting conditions, the background, and think about the photo quality. I have yet to take a good selfie, so I go out of my way to give my phone to others to take photos.
1. Don’t be in a rush.
It is interesting that some people are so busy that their body language emits a “rushing” message. Have you seen that? The symptoms are that they are speaking with you and looking elsewhere, they are shaking your hand and looking at someone else, they speak with you and then move on before you can respond to what they said. Have you experienced any of this? I have. Is that an effective message? The most important people on this earth who have tremendous responsibilities and time pressures, find time to focus their attention on the person in front of them. Even during last week’s event, I pointed out to some people how effectively Dr. Alan Wildeman, University of Windsor President, networked. He spoke with each person in a gentle and focused manner and addressed the group with such humility that he won each of us over. He did not let anyone feel that they were wasting his precious time. So when you are attending a networking event, stay focused on the person you are speaking with. Even if Justin Bieber enters the room, keep your discussion going and deal with Justin later on.
2. Don’t arrive without business cards.
I am amazed that people will attend a networking event and not bring business cards. Am I out of touch with the current business environment? If you meet someone and want to continue your discussion and meet later, how are you going to do it without business cards being exchanged? I wouldn’t recommend thrusting your card into someone’s hands immediately, but please keep them handy.
3. Don’t bring any biases to the event.
Humans are full of all sorts of biases. I am suggesting you leave your biases and stereotypes at the door before entering an event. Some examples of biases are: important people will be dressed very well, younger people have less experience and knowledge, and visible minorities came from another country. I am suggesting you park those preconceived notions so that you can explore and learn about people as individuals. You will find that by not putting people into gender, age, ethnicity, and other groupings, you will gain so much more. My suggestion is to look into each person’s eyes and speak with them without thinking about their dress, gender, age, and other attributes. Focus on who they are and what they are trying to accomplish. If you can find common ground, you can gain from the interaction.
4. Don’t seek familiar faces.
In November last year, I attended a conference and found 4 people from the same company sitting at my lunch table. I feel this totally defeats the purpose of the event; you are not benefitting by sitting with those you already know and deal with daily. I understand that it’s human nature to seek out familiar faces – this makes us feel at home. Perhaps some people also feel networking opportunities are “not their thing” or they don’t understand how it helps them with personal and career goals. However, hanging around with known people during a networking event is a total waste of time. I would suggest you say hello to the people you know, but then move on and say hello to others as well.
5. Don’t be concerned about numbers.
Anyone who has taken sales training will remember to focus on numbers – send so many letters, emails, phone calls and meet so many people per day or week. This is a way to overcome fear and get new salespeople to get out there and practice their sales pitches. When you consider networking, please drop that type of thinking. I have seen people walk through a room with a wad of their business cards handing them out like they were giving out candy. This is not going to bring any business to you nor will this result in anyone calling you back. Humans do not respond to that type of treatment. We want to deal with people we like and trust. To get others to like us and trust us, we need to take a different approach. We have to show we care, we have to invest time to build relationships. We have to be thinking long-term. The most interesting story I heard was from a realtor who left his business card during a meeting. The sellers did not want to sell until 10 years later. However, they were so impressed that they opened up the file 10 years later and called him – they did not call anyone else. In that single project, the realtor made over $3,000,000 profit. Think about that.
I hope you found this useful. I would love to hear your networking stories also. Ultimately, we are all on the planet together. If we feel threatened by people we don’t know, we are not going to think of networking positively. The vast majority of people are good people. They are ready to help us – we just need to reach out and connect. Of course, it’s also true that a small minority will seek to take advantage of others. But our focus should be on the larger majority that is willing to help us with our career and personal growth. Happy networking!