It’s been a long time since shoulder-padded yuppies “worked the room" with their slick business cards. And we’re all glad that those days are over. Today networking is a much more relaxed and informal way of meeting new contacts and friends, learning about what makes other people tick and investigating to see if you’ve got common ground, whether that is a business referral or the name of a fantastic osteopath who “fixes shoulders".
Today conversation at a networking event is just as likely to be about the latest bestseller or celebrity scandal as it is about work. It’s about connecting as people and finding out if you would like to do business with each other. And if not business, then you may be just as likely to offer business advice or the name of a good printer who can make your brochures look divine.
To some extent the pressure is off. But there are still people out there who just aren’t comfortable with networking, yet. Or those who make it uncomfortable for others.
We’ve put together a list of some of the common faces you may see at a networking group. In fact, you may even be a little like one or two of them. But, just like any good networking host, our aim is to help, so we’ve also pointed out ways to avoid succumbing to the common mistakes. Hopefully they will help you enjoy and make the most out of your networking.
This poor lad is out for the first time, having read that networking is the thing to do. He has a plastic carton of brand new business cards palmed in one hand and a nerve-strengthening drink in the other. He’s not quite sure how to join in so hangs around nervously on the edge of a group that seems to be having a thoroughly good conversation. Unfortunately, he’s just out of earshot so he doesn’t know what it’s about and misses the signals, laughing about three seconds after everyone else.
Advice for Newbies
There’s nothing wrong with being nervous. In fact walking up to a two or three people and announcing that it’s your first time here and would they mind if you come and say hello is a great (and honest) way to break the ice. Keep the business cards handy – one pocket for yours and one for those you collect. Finally, watch the booze!
Party people look like they are having fun. Darn it, they are having fun. They’re laughing with their mates, getting stuck into the nibbles (they’re the first to the table) and lean forward to have conversations so obscure that no one else knows what they’re on about. But watch a party person closely and you’ll see that they hardly move from the same spot all night and they rarely talk to anyone new. What’s the point? They could be out having a fantastic meal together and avoiding the lukewarm wine and dry canapés!
Advice for party people:
Spending time with your friends isn’t a bad thing. If it gets you out of the office it’s a great motivator. But make the effort to mix. Tell your mates that you’re off for half an hour to meet some new people and that you’ll see them later. You’ll get both your networking and socialising done at the same time.
Tunnel Vision Talkers.
A tunnel vision talker has never heard of the idea that networking is an exchange. Instead a tunnel vision talker moves straight from “hello my name is" to sales patter, regardless of whether you’ve expressed an interest or not. They don’t seem to notice the subtle signs that people aren’t interested (eyes glazing over, snoring, people downing their drinks in one so that they’ve got an excuse to go to the bar) and sadly never quite understand why their networking attempts never result in any success.
Advice for Tunnel Vision Talkers.
Forget all the trendy talk about elevator pitches and 60 second summaries – just for the moment – and practice listening to others and asking about what they do. Learn some body language – watch other people having conversations and notice the subtle signs that show when they are interested, and when they are not. Do it right and you’ll be such a great listener that people will become genuinely interested in what you do.
Every group has one of these. It’s the person who always complains (loudly) about coming along (“I’m not convinced it’s worth the fee/I never get any business or contacts out of this/ I feel networking is just a waste of time) and then they wonder why everyone tries their best to avoid standing next to them. Sometimes moaning members come across other moaning members and the whole thing turns into a bit of a moaning clique.
Advice for Moaning Members
We all have our reasons to moan, especially when business is going through a bit of a quiet phase, but whining will do nothing for your credibility or popularity rating. Stick a smile on your face and get on with it. Or stay at home until you’re in a better mood.
If you share any traits with any of our stars we’ve hopefully given you a few ideas that will polish and hone your networking. And, if you ever spot our Nervous Newbie at a future event do go over and break the ice.
While this has been a light-hearted look at networking, Paula Gardner runs a 7 day ecourse on Make Networking Work For You, an entirely serious course that will help both new and seasoned networkers build opportunities for their business and feel at ease in one of today’s most powerful ways of marketing. Check out the networking ecourse at http://www.doyourownpr.com/products/double_your_clients_through_networking.asp