Networking events can be a great way to build connections within your industry and get the word out about new things going on in your business. Networking can also be terribly awkward and when done wrong, and can feel like living in an insurance commercial – constantly getting pitched and having business cards thrown around ‘make it rain’ style.
Choose the Right Events
Investopedia has the best definition of networking:
Networking is the exchange of information and ideas among people with
a common profession or special interest, usually in an informal social
setting. Networking often begins with a single point of common ground.
Key words here are common profession, special interest, and common ground. Great networking events are very specific to industry, service types, or centered around a cause. These are fantastic because the people attending already have a common bond. This creates easier conversation and a more comfortable atmosphere.
My least favorite events are ‘networking for the sake of networking’. Without a common theme among attendees, goals become very short sided. People are there solely to find new business, not form relationships.
Look for events hosted by groups that interest you or you already belong to such as alumni associations and service groups. Always know who is hosting- you could get trapped in a vacation time share pitch.
Have Your 10-Second Intro Ready
Introductions can be awkward and you really can’t replace that first impression. When someone asks you what you do- do you have your 10 second answer ready? You may be thinking ’10 seconds? I thought an elevator pitch is 30 seconds?’ Correct. This is not an elevator pitch. 30 seconds is too long. This is a conversation not a board presentation. Attention spans are not long enough to sustain that amount of information from a stranger. Cut it down.
In 10 seconds or less can you tell me – most importantly – how you help people and why you are different?
For example: ‘I’m a mortgage broker’ is dry and chances are there are 14 more brokers at the same event’. Maybe a more captivating answer is ‘I specialize in home loans for vacation properties and second homes- but I service all mortgage needs’ Which answer is more likely to start a conversation?
Lead with your niche- show people what makes you interesting!
Exchanging Information – Know the Format
How will people be exchanging information? Are we using old school but practical business cards? If so – how many do you need? Running out is embarrassing. Are we exchanging LinkedIn contact information and Instagram handles?
Have your information ready to share- not digging thought the bottom of your bag or checking all the pockets to hand someone a tattered card. After exchanging information I do one of two things-
- If we are using phones to exchange information – LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook- I start a list in my notes app and jot down a few things we talked about. This helps me remember who I talked to and about what. I am really bothered when people forget conversations with me so I try to never do the same. I’ll right down anything that connected us, useful information, or things I don’t want to forget. Maybe Mike is a videographer and I see a potential parternship someday, our kids go to the same school, and we are both alumni at University of Pittsburgh. My note would read ‘Mike – Video – kids school, Pitt’ just enough to jog my memory later on.
- If we are exchanging cards- I write down a few things on the card about the conversation. Getting your phone out right after talking to someone can be rude and shows them I was just looking forward to a distraction.
Please treat the information someone gives you as personal. FYI- just because someone gave you their card does not give you consent to add them to your email list. The police won’t come to your house, but that’s not how opt-in requirements work.
People to Avoid
The worst events I’ve been to attract the ‘quick draw business card’ type. Hand you their card, tell you why they are the best insurance agent/realtor/financial advisor under the sun, and if your response doesn’t make them feel like you are their next best client, they are off putting someone else through their awkwardness. Don’t be ‘That Guy’.
If someone is genuinely looking to form relationships, they will ask questions, make eye contact, and engage in conversation. Speed dating tactics don’t make for good networking. Spend your time connecting with people are there for the right reasons.
Avoid people there for short-term gains. If election day is two weeks away and you see your local politicians- not time to create connection. Once I was at a large event – and I realized 30 minutes in that most people where there to take selfies saying showing they were there but no one was having actually conversations. I was frustrated and started to head out. A local politician was talking to a large group of supporters, and was so into his talk that he managed to spill red wine down my shirt. Another lesson might be don’t wear white when there’s a bar.
Be a Human Being
In my last job before diving into entrepreneurship full time, I went to a lot of events to represent the business and I’ve been through some bad event with people there for the wrong reason. If you are looking to have genuine connection and conversation, be genuine and start conversations. Your positive energy will attract the right business relationships. I would rather have one good conversation than 50 shallow card-exchanges.
Follow up with people in a genuine non-sales way. A quick email or DM (direct message on social) to say ‘Hey- great to meet you!’ Followup with the conversation you were having, ask about other events they recommend. Basically be a real person. Businesses grow with a network of trust and connection.