Spoiler Alert: Always stay home and watch Downton Abbey is the answer.
I have written about 5,000 articles about networking and taught about 42,000 workshops on the topic (these numbers are a rough estimate and do not reflect reality precisely). It is a HUGELY popular topic in the business community. Ya know why? Because most of us hate it, because a lot of times it really sucks, and no one knows how the hell to turn hours of awkwardness into CLIENTS. Well, I actually do know how. There was no way I was going to spend my mornings drinking weak coffee and passing my business card out like my life depended on it and then spend my evenings drinking cheap wine and listening to people give me their elevator pitch. If this was what was required to build a book of business I would have no clients and I’d be applying for a job at Papyrus or Papersource – what can I say I like paper; and I think a job at Starbucks would be too stressful – the phrase half-caff sends me over the edge.
When I network I do not look at people as if their heads are dollar signs. When someone asks me what I do I don’t respond on cue with my pitch I simply say, “I teach people how to make money.” It takes me a couple of seconds to say that, maybe up to four seconds if I’m really tired and I’ve had more than one plastic cup of wine. I don’t try to sell people on who I am or what I do. Instead I focus on understanding what other people are doing and figuring out if I can help them do it better. I don’t schedule twenty-seven useless coffee dates or ask people if I could show them a way to get five new clients a month would they be interested in meeting with me. Saying things like that makes me feel gross and rarely gets me any business. You don’t have to be the life of the party or pitch everyone with a pulse to get business from networking. You can actually get business by being human.
Here are five simple actions that will make networking more fun and more profitable
1. Problem solve more than you pitch. Don’t pitch everyone you meet like you’re working at a kiosk at the mall and spraying passersby in the face with body spray. Ask people about their work and how you can help them. This very simple technique transformed one client’s experience at conferences. He had spent every conference trying to “sell” his company and when I told him to go and find problems he could solve, he came back with business.
2. Do not whine, complain, criticize or degrade; and if you come across someone who does any of those things, run away, run far away. If you want to whine you might as well sit home and complain to your spouse or your cat or your friends. If you make the effort to go out, don’t waste it. No one wants to work with Debbie Downer or Barry Bitter. They are boring and useless; so get your happy on or stay home.
3. Don’t stand around looking as if you’re in a room of cannibals. Cannibalism is very rare and highly unlikely to occur at a networking event. Everyone, well most people, feel weird. Introduce yourself and include people who are standing around looking terrified. It’s not that hard. Stick out your hand and make a contact. Here’s the deal, most people will be very grateful that you took the initiative.
4. Listen and learn. Ask great questions and follow up questions. People like to be seen and heard. You will learn more from listening than talking. Make people feel interesting. That sounds strange, but if you make people feel good they’ll remember that more than anything you said to them.
5. Follow up. If you aren’t going to follow up then stay home. Contracts don’t get signed at networking events. All of the really significant business happens AFTER the event so follow up. FOLLOW UP. Yes, I am yelling. Write it down.
All of this advice presumes Downton Abbey is not on – in which case stay home and enjoy your evening. *PSSST… Actually Downton Abbey is on Sunday evenings so you wouldn’t be networking anyway so GET OUT THERE!