I have a confession to make: I don’t always love networking.
Yes, you read that right. And if someone who has been called one of Silicon Valley’s top relationship management experts doesn’t always love networking … Well, I doubt I’m alone.
For many people, networking is like flossing. It’s something you know you should do. Maybe it’s even something you do do. But it isn’t something you necessarily enjoy.
If that sounds like you, I don’t blame you. Networking can sometimes feel sleazy, uncomfortable, and artificial; and this trifecta of negative connotations often creates a sense of dread when it comes time to network.
Any of that sound familiar? If you’re in the majority of people who believe networking and networking events are simply a “necessary evil,” you’ve come to the right place.
I’m going to share one simple strategy that turned networking on its head for me; a strategy I think will completely change the way you think about these events.
But before we get there, we need to understand what’s causing that sense of dread in the first place.
Why Networking Makes Us Uneasy
So what’s caused this widespread disdain for networking? I believe there’s two primary reasons.
First off, networking is widely perceived as a selfish act. After all, it’s ultimately defined as something that is good for you, and is all about meeting people who can help you get what you want.
For those of us more driven to give than receive—and I think that’s the majority of entrepreneurs—this self-serving perception goes against our natural instincts.
Secondly, researchers estimate introverts make up some 50-74% of the population. No surprise, introverts are naturally less-inclined than extroverts to go out and meet new people for the sole purpose of “pitching” themselves.
But the interesting thing is, some of the most successful people in our modern economy are introverts. For example: Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates are all self-proclaimed introverts; and the idea of going to an event with hundreds of faces they don’t know and striking up a conversation with a stranger probably doesn’t register very high on the “fun” meter.
How to Revolutionize Your Perception of Networking
So what’s the solution here?
What do you do if you identify as an introvert, or are made uncomfortable by the selfish nature of networking? It all starts with a shift in mindset: You’ve got to teach yourself to genuinely feel great about networking.
I know, that probably sounds like a severe case of “easier said than done,” but there are a few simple steps you can take to make this happen. First: Change your perspective.
Instead of entering a networking event focusing on getting others to help you, focus on helping others. Turn the networking event into an opportunity to provide massive value by setting a goal to meet at least five people who you can help.
That might sound simple, but it completely upends traditional views of networking and makes it a much more positive experience to those who are more service-minded.
If you commit to helping at least five people—whether that’s offering an introduction or sending them an article they might find valuable—you’re going to make a strong positive impact on people.
After all: You’ll be one of the few people at that event who is there with the sole intent of helping others. In turn, this builds trust; and trust is the foundation of any relationship. And I’d wager that after taking this approach at, say, five different networking events … You’ll have a completely different belief system when it comes to networking.
The Five Step Process for Massive Networking Success
But let me take things a little further and get more pragmatic. You know the mindset shift that needs to happen, but I haven’t told you exactly what to do.
Here’s the five step process I recommend to my clients to help them overcome a networking event aversion.
Step One: Schedule Three Networking Events
All of these ideas may be well and good, but they won’t be of any real use if you don’t use them. So before you go any further, I challenge you to find at least three networking events in the next couple months and schedule them on your calendar.
And then—and this is the catch—don’t cancel them. Treat them with as much importance as you would a board meeting; because they may end up being just as important to your long-term success.
Not sure where to find networking events? Check out Meetup and Eventbrite for a listing of events going on in your area. You might even check out LinkedIn groups relevant to your industry to see what they know.
Feel like you don’t have time to attend a networking event? That’s a whole other battle, but we can help. Check out Whitespace Time Management: The Proactive Entrepreneur’s Guide to Owning Your Time and Mastering Your Priorities.
Step Two: Adopt the 5-Second Rule
One of the biggest networking hurdles is simply starting a conversation. The best strategy I’ve found for overcoming this challenge came from a shy friend of mine who struggled to meet new people at bars.
To overcome his tendency to isolate himself and wait for someone to approach him, he created a simple rule: “When I make eye contact with someone, I have 5 seconds to go and talk with them. Period.”
No surprise: This is just as effective at networking events as it is at bars. When you make eye contact with someone, approach them. Immediately. You can even turn it into a game and see how many times you successfully followed the rule.
This can be a great way to overcome insecurities, to stop worrying about what you’re going to say, and to quit worrying about what someone else is going to think of you. After all: You won’t have time for any of that when all you’ve got is five seconds to act.
Step Three: Stay Value-Focused
Remember: You’re at this event to provide as much value as possible to as many people as possible. With that in mind, ask questions that uncover what’s truly important to the people you’re talking to.
One great alternative to the classic, “What do you do?” is to ask, “What are you working on right now?” This question gives you a great look at their priorities and professional interests.
If they just respond with a job title, don’t be afraid to dig a little deeper. Ask what projects they’re working on, and what challenges they’re trying to overcome.
Once you understand their challenges, you can probably leverage the vast knowledge and resources within your network to provide something that would be relevant and valuable to this person, such as a best practice you’ve learned, a book recommendation, or an introduction to someone that can help.
Step Four: Set up a Next Step
Keep in mind that networking events are there to initiate relationships, not develop them. You won’t have an opportunity to really deepen the relationship in 5-7 minutes, and that’s why you want to be sure you leave each networking interaction with a clear “next step.”
In most cases, that next step is going to be whatever item of value you committed to sending them. For example: Making an introduction or sending over an article.
To ensure that happens, I recommend connecting on LinkedIn or About.me before parting ways; business cards are too easily lost or discarded. And as a final tip in this step, be sure to practice a meeting debrief after every networking interaction to ensure you don’t lose any vital information.
Step five: Follow Through
The final step is to make sure you actually follow through on your commitment, and create a reason to reconnect again in the future.
If you send them an introduction, send a follow-up email and ask how it went. If you sent a book or blog recommendation, follow up to see if it helped.
Either way, be sure to ask them how you can continue to provide them value in the future. This keeps the conversation going and establishes you as a source of relevant, continuous value.
Nailing Networking Conversations Every Time
At the end of the day, it’s really that simple: If you make that mental shift and follow those five steps, it’ll only be a matter of time until you turn networking events from something you dread into something you love; or at the very least, something you don’t avoid at all costs.
But if you want to really blow people out of the water and turn networking events into a source of massive value, it’s going to take a little more. That’s why we created Networking Events Demystified: 9 Rules to Nail Networking Conversations Every Time.
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