I was just at the BC Business Top 100 event in Vancouver last month – an amazing event highlighting some of the top companies around, along with the talented people running them. It was an amazing opportunity — but as usual, I was physically anxious in a big crowd. Networking right is hard. I’m far more comfortable with 1-on-1 conversations, where I get to really spend time with people and get to the heart of issues. You wouldn’t have known it, though, since I’ve gotten very good at covering that up.
Many people are not really natural networkers. Still, they recognize how important it can be for their business, so they make the effort. If they’re not careful, these novice networkers are likely to pick up some bad habits emulating the people who show up, shake your hand, introduce themselves, hand off their business cards and sidestep into the crowd to repeat the process.
Networking right, networking wrong
You’ve seen the type before – they’re so set on getting as many business cards out as possible in the hopes of getting it into the hands of that mythical person who’s going to buy what they’re selling on the spot, that they don’t even look up at the person they’re giving it away to. In the end, they leave a bad impression, but often come away assuming wrongly that they’ve “worked the room” effectively. After all, they gave away 20 cards and if even one or two of those people become paying customers this week, they’ve come out ahead.
They’re focusing on the wrong metric of success. Don’t count off business cards given away. Don’t try to do the hard sell with someone you just met 30 seconds ago, either. Instead, ask yourself:
- Did you meet someone interesting?
- Did you learn something?
- Did your conversation set the stage for a much more substantial relationship to follow?
- Did they offer to introduce you to someone who has something in common?
Not All Networking Forums Are Created Equal
I also recently joined the eWomen Network. Instead of networking with a mind-numbingly diverse assortment of characters at a big conference, I’m having real conversations with people who share my interests and experiences. At the last event, I managed to solve a real dilemma about whether or not to continue on with a complex business situation. The great advice I received through sharing with fellow attendees made me realize that I had access to real mentorship opportunities – something we all need in business. I also bumped into someone who could be a potential investor for a colleague’s project. I wasn’t expecting either outcome from the event – it just happened.
Opportunities like that can just happen when you’re not laser-targeting in selling mode. Be selective about the kinds of networking events you’ll attend and go in with an open mind. Good things will happen.
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