Let’s face it, networking looks and feels a lot like a first Tinder date. And just like dating, networking can be hard work as we try to put our best foot forward and search for common ground with complete strangers.
When we’re trying to build a network (or find a mate), we all know we need to get ‘out there’, but we’re a bit reticent – memories flood in of arriving alone, your heart beating a little faster than normal, small talk, time dragging on… only to be a little disappointed at the end of the night.
But putting yourself ‘out there’ is the tried and tested, time-proven way to meet new people. Just maybe that fleeting introduction blossoms into a long term, mutually beneficial relationship that can change your business (or your life).
Here are some basic tips to improve your success rate as you search for that special connection, in business and in life:
The biggest killer when attending any kind of networking event is overthinking. Endless thoughts running through your head of how to strike up a conversation, how many people you should talk to, how many referrals you need to get, will this be worthwhile, what do they think of you, is there something in your teeth, oh god you laughed too loudly at that joke, did you leave the iron on… quick, pass the wine!
By all means, prepare for the event, with some background research on the topic, some guesswork on who might be there, what common ground you might have, and what opportunities there might be to work together, but once you are there try to relax and enjoy the event.
Being truly present is the greatest gift you can give anyone. That means not engaging with your thinking to the point of distraction. Unfortunately, for the overthinkers reading this blog, you all know that trying to stop your thoughts or change them is a lot like trying to hold back a tsunami, it ain’t going to happen! But recognising that they are just your thoughts and not giving weight to them is a good place to start for a more peaceful mind and enjoyable event.
Let’s talk – Get curious
One of the greatest mistakes people can make in networking is forgetting to listen. All too often, they want to fill the uncomfortable silences with words, or think about the next thing they want to say so everyone will know how great they are at networking!
Next time you are in a conversation with someone, try listening without an agenda, a time frame or pre-prepared response. Instead, get curious, ask questions, dig into the conversation and see what gems are disclosed to you. The feeling that you generate in the conversation will have a lasting affect long after the conversation has ended.
Be confident but humble
It’s hard to network if you’re a shy and modest wallflower, mainly because its hard work for everyone else. Most business people are gracious and professional when networking, and they courteously take turns introducing themselves when getting to know each other. They are investing their time in the room to broaden their networks and get to know other people, so they expect each person to speak confidently and clearly about who they are and what they do. Your introduction and description of yourself and your company set the scene for building trust and familiarity in a short time.
If you’re overly shy and modest, it doesn’t help your new contacts to understand who you are and what you do, and it puts pressure on them to work harder to get you to reveal more so that they can see how the connections work. Most of the time, they’ll politely try for a minute or two and then give up because its hard work and boring.
No one likes an arrogant git, but most people in networking are drawn to confidence and find it easier to connect with people who are open and upfront.
Start by having a strong introduction that tells your new connections who you are, where you are from and what you do. (“Hi, I’m Rebecca Johns, I’m from Aurora Marketing. We help companies win their tenders.”)
In networking, people often ask for more information, such as ‘what kind of clients do you work with’, or ‘what kind of projects do you work on’, so be prepared to go in to enough detail that your new connections can understand what you do and how you help your clients. Take pride in your work, have some success stories up your sleeves, and be prepared to share your strengths and learnings.
We’ve all fallen hard for the perfect, golden opportunity. The perfect client walks in, with the ideal project that is right in our sweet spot, a budget to make us drool… Our very own McDreamy. The urge is so strong to throw ourselves at their feet!
Here’s where networking is a lot like dating. Going too heavy too soon to pursue your fantasy client will scare them off. No one wants to be cornered by a crazy stalker who’s standing too close and laughing too loudly at their jokes.
Go slow and take your time to see where things naturally develop. Don’t assume that because they are from a certain company or in a certain industry or working on a certain project that they are your ideal target. Find out what their role is, what their plans are, what gets them excited and what frustrates them…
If there seems to be a good connection, fantastic, but hold off on your plans for the wedding.
Take it one step at a time
Following on from this point, it’s important to take things one step at a time. This rule applies to any pursuit, including client relationships and sales.
No successful sales person meets a client for the first time and expects to sign a deal, at least not in high investment decision making. Successful sales people know that their goal is to move one step further along the journey, which might be getting the person’s contact details, or getting permission to stay in touch, or setting up a meeting, or being invited to make a presentation… At any point in time, the focus is to move one step on the journey.
Keep this in mind when networking. What’s the next step in your journey with this new connection? Aim for that, instead of the end result.
You win some you lose some
We all want to be liked and it’s a challenge not to take rejection personally. But not everyone will want or need what you are offering.
Broaden your expectations for what you want from a networking event. If you go to an event hoping to meet a new client and walk out with a signed purchase order, chances are you’ll be disappointed. But, if you go to an event with a view to learning more about the industry, enjoying the topic or the speaker, meeting some people who you might find some personal or business connections with, learning something about some projects in the pipeline etc, chances are you’ll be thrilled with how valuable the event was. Plus, you know, wine!
Even so, not every event is going to be worthwhile. Some events are just duds. Sometimes it’s not you, it’s them.
Taking the right attitude to a networking event is crucial. Make sure you’re prepared to have some fun and inject some good energy. At the least, there’ll probably be a few free drinks, you’ll meet some great people, have a laugh and maybe even make a difference in someone’s life.
If you follow these 7 tips, you are bound to find networking is more enjoyable and more effective and you’ll find yourself making lots of meaningful connections that are mutually-beneficial.
Aurora Marketing specialises in helping companies win their tenders, which is underpinned by our expertise in marketing, communications, business development and sales. If you need to win more tenders, or win tenders with less headaches, we can help you. Contact Aurora Marketing on 07 3211 4299 or firstname.lastname@example.org.