We’ve all been there. You are enjoying talking to one or two people at a networking event, and all of a sudden, someone interrupts your conversation. Now, the conversation has stopped, all eyes are on the interrupter, and there’s silence. The interrupter introduces him or herself, asks for everyone’s names, and then immediately jumps into a sales pitch.
What happens next can vary. Sometimes the person asks what the other people do or sometimes he or she wraps up their pitch, hands out business cards, and then leaves.
Does this networking strategy sound like you? If so, and this is just pure honesty, you’re an asshole. The people you’re talking to are well aware that you don’t care what they have to say because your goal is to pitch your business to as many people as possible. Sure, it’s good to network to as many people as you can, but if you aren’t genuine, you’re doing it wrong.
These are the golden rules for an effective networking strategy:
Quality, not quantity
I met a business coach at a networking event, and he said he tells his clients to network with everyone at an event. You want to know who I won’t work with? Him. Because at that same event, he spent less than five minutes talking to me and four of them were him selling his business to me. I don’t remember anything about him because he didn’t make an effort to make a genuine connection with me. He went up to 50+ people and gave the same speech, so there was nothing special about our conversation. When you go to networking events, you should pick about five or six people and spend time getting to know them. Don’t rush, don’t time yourself, and don’t end the conversation until it naturally happens. The more time you spend with them, the more they will remember you and the more likely you’ll build a meaningful relationship with them down the road. Sure, you may not have 50 business cards, but when you email them the next morning, they will remember you from the rest of the crowd.
It’s not about you or your business
Networking is not about pitching your business. It is about making connections with people in your local business community. If that results in these people becoming customers of your business, that’s great. However, that shouldn’t be the only reason you’re talking to them. Expanding your professional network is just as valuable as getting customers, so don’t check out from a conversation when you realize the person isn’t a potential business opportunity. When you talk to people at networking events, you should treat them like any other person you’re meeting for the first time – ask them questions to get to know them and build a relationship.
Be genuine or go home
People put a lot of weight into proper networking. That’s why there are dozens of articles on effective networking strategies. But I think the biggest secret is to stop putting so much pressure on yourself! You don’t have to act differently or contribute specific information to a conversation. This isn’t a sales pitch, so why does everyone treat it like one? Start with an introduction and then see where the conversation takes you – business, hobbies, pets, traveling – it doesn’t matter what you talk about because you aren’t supposed to be selling yourself or your business. Be yourself and conduct your networking in a way that makes you feel the most comfortable. Like a party, networking is just meeting a series of people for the first time. All the people are expecting to meet a bunch of new people, so you shouldn’t feel weird going to talk to them.
You may have other effective networking strategies you like to use, but these three are golden for me. I’ve met so many amazing people and built a professional network that I’m proud of. Check out more networking resources here.