It is easy to find excuses for not attending networking events. My go-to favourites were “Don’t have the time” and “Don’t get anything out of it”. For several years, I made the mistake of categorizing networking as an extra – an elective activity for folks who enjoy that sort of thing. But experience has taught me that networking matters! It is a valuable business tool.
Effective networking is critical to personal growth and business development. Successful business leaders find time to network and learn how to do it right.
I began consciously trying to improve my networking skills about three years ago. At first, it was frustrating. The intensity level at some events was overwhelming and I often felt adrift in a sea of jargon and elevator pitches. I would come home with a pocket full of business cards but not be able connect faces to names. And I would blush when I mentally reviewed my own performance and realized that I had fallen into a bucket of business-speak and wound up talking nonsense.
Networking is like any other business skill. The learning curve can be steep. You need to be persistent and keep trying until you get the hang of it. The biggest thing to remember is to be yourself. Stay calm and consciously avoid the most common networking mis-steps:
- STOP “working the room”. Think quality instead of quantity. Rather than try to shake hands with every attendee, focus on having two or three meaningful conversations. Think of the event as an opportunity to make friends instead of just connections.
- DO NOT begin a conversation by pushing your business card at someone. This is like tossing your phone number at a stranger in a bar – aggressive and disconcerting. Leave the card exchange for later. Take a breath, smile, and say “hello”. Introductions are important and should not be rushed.
- DO NOT launch right into your ‘elevator pitch’. Instead, start the conversation by asking the person a question or two. When you show a genuine interest in someone, you build rapport AND you learn more about their business. This places you in a better position to identify potential opportunities for your company to work with theirs.
- DO NOT try too hard. People can smell desperation a mile away. Be aware of the warning signs. If you hear your voice going up an octave, or you start to laugh that strange laugh that sounds nothing like your normal guffaw, find an excuse to disengage. A trip to the bathroom is always a good out. Take a few deep breaths and settle down.
- DO NOT try to “close” a deal. Networking events are not the place to work out details. End a productive conversation by handing out that business card (the one you didn’t push at them when you first met) and by asking for their card, if it has not already been provided. Set up a time to re-connect or agree to email later.
Improving my networking skills has benefited by my company in many ways. I have found clients, suppliers, collaborators, and employees through attendance at networking events. I have enhanced my professional profile within industries that are important to my success, and I have made several truly good friends.
Even if your company is well-established, has a solid client base, and is doing well, it is never a bad idea to venture out there and see what more you can do. And when you mix and mingle with other people, you learn about the things they are doing. For me, this is the most important reason to attend business events. Hearing about other people’s good ideas gives me good ideas!
This article was written by Kim Scaravelli, CEO of Trust Communications Inc., an Instructional Design firm in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. Over the past 15+ years, Trust Communications has developed more than 150 online and blended learning programs for clients across Canada and abroad. And yes… some of these clients were attained through networking!