There are dozens, perhaps hundreds of “networking events” near you on monthly basis. They all hold out the promise of connecting with influencers and other people who can help you grow your business or find new opportunities. But, can those events truly deliver? Unfortunately, often the answer is “no.”
At a local event, you’ll find a lot of people “hustling hard” – whether they’re insurance or financial services professionals looking for new clients, new business owners who are happy to meet anyone just so he/she can practice giving an elevator pitch, or the occasional banker hoping to find someone open to changing banks. It’s a scattershot, unintentional way to approach something that should be very intentional and focused. These events are not just asking for your enthusiasm and your engagement, but they are asking for your time, which in an era of amazon go buttons, uber, and text messaging, is at a premium now more than ever.
These well-intentioned people at the random “mixer” are, understandably, focused on something transactional. They’ll hear about what you’re doing and see if they can help you, and in return, you might want to do the same for them. But often they aren’t thinking about long-term relationships. They have business cards in hand, eager to meet someone tonight. Inexplicably you’ll sometimes see their business cards on some of the tables as you leave – sometimes because they’ve taken the time to generously sprinkle them around, hoping someone might pick them up and take interest in a complete stranger, other times because after being assaulted with said business card by this person, it’s been left behind as a measure of how much value it contained. It may be a bit depressing to hear, but it’s the reality of many so-called “networking” events.
You’ll find very successful and high value individuals will rarely, if ever, attend a random, uncurated event. Instead, you might find them at private dinners, industry conferences, or CEO summits. My business partner AJ will actually be speaking at such an event (and so will Ryan!) next year. At all these events, these individuals seek out new relationships and thoughtful conversations with other high-value types.
How to make the most of these events
More than anything, try to forget the idea of “networking” at all. Many people have a negative attitude towards it (understandably, for some of the reasons we noted above) and would rather do anything other than “network.” People don’t want to “network” – they want real conversations and authentic relationships. You can only do that if you’re seeking the same, and do that by being generous from the outset, without worrying what you can “get” or what you are looking for at any given moment.
Focus on truly trying to get to know someone for who they are, not what they do. One of the guests I’ve interviewed for the Art of Charm podcast, Marsha Shandur, asks, “Who would I be friends with in this room, regardless of what we do for a living, and how can I engage with them in a friendly way?” When you stop trying to hustle, people put their guards down and you can learn more about them and how you might be able to add value.
If there is a particular person who is speaking at this event, or hosting a panel, perhaps reach out ahead of time and see if you can be of service – whether with a restaurant recommendation or if you can pick up something for them that they need. Don’t be open-ended about it: that creates more work for them. Be specific – “Do you need any last minute props for your presentation” or “Here’s a name and address of a quiet cafe if you need to get some work done.” To this end, don’t underestimate the power of social media in reaching out to people, as their email inbox may be, understandably, buried.
Finally, consider participating in the event yourself. Whether it’s a prominent role like speaking or chairing a panel, or something more behind the scenes like helping to run a welcome booth or build content for the event, you’re going to get more opportunities to interact with speakers and other key individuals than the average event attendee.
Remember, whatever kind of networking event you attend, no matter how well curated, depends on how you present yourself and make others feel in your presence. Set people at ease, be curious and generous, and you’ll be impressed by the possibilities that unfold.
Jordan enjoys sharing tips not just about social skills in business, but in life and love as well. Learn more at his site, Jordan Harbinger.
Want to connect at one of these curated events Jordan is speaking about? Join us in Kansas City in August 2017!