After years of hearing the term networking, and even saying the word a few thousand times myself, I have really come to hate it.
It just sounds so cold, sterile -- not how I want to do business.
Consequently I have been thinking a lot about what I really want as an end result of meeting someone at a "networking" event. And you know what -- it's not to network with them.
It's to connect with them!
To really understand why someone does what they do -- what their true purpose is. To see if their purpose and mission is synergistic with mine and if it is how we can serve each other, thereby serving our prospective communities better.
When this process occurs -- the deals follow. And when the deal is done between two people connecting (notice I did not say two businesses) as opposed to "networking," the money usually follows.
But often people are scared to put themselves out there. Unfortunately that vulnerability is perceived as arrogance or as total non-interest. Or their behavior is so offensive -- so "what's in it for me," that before you know it a potential million-dollar deal is out the window.
Don't let this happen to you.
Conquering the World of Connecting
Recently I was speaking at an event. I was chatting casually with my friend, mentor, colleague Mark Ford (aka Michael Masterson), when all of a sudden a woman who I had met a couple months prior at another event sits at the table, interrupts our conversation and says, and I quote, "MaryEllen, you are certainly a hard woman get a hold of, I emailed you last week and I have not heard back from you."
Do you really think this kind of behavior is conducive to me wanting to work with you?
That was my first thought. But what I said was "Yes Sue, I received the email on Thursday -- I left for this event on Monday. I was planning on returning your email later in the week."
And this is a wonderful example of why most people do not end up with business from events. They simply have not mastered the event etiquette.
People assume that their highest priority is the highest priority of the person they are trying to do business with.
By adopting this attitude, the only thing you will walk away with is a lot of useless business cards.
Instead put yourself out there with a mission-centric philosophy. When you live your company's mission, people will flock to you.
The Seven Best Connecting Secrets
1. Cultivate your relationships: You need to project an excellent image of warmth, approachability, understanding, knowledge, empathy, and an ability to engage with anyone. Be genuine. You should take an interest in everyone you meet, remember their name, and listen acutely to them to understand their needs and how you could assist each other. Building of trust is a vital component of relationship building. Be relaxed and stay interesting.
2. Understand that "small talk" is the road to "big time": Being able to talk to anyone about anything is a valuable skill in its own right and essential for connecting. Being able to initiate a conversation means you are more likely to come into contact with people who may well turn out to be invaluable contacts. Small talk can be difficult at times but by having a few key phrases up your sleeve such as "Where are you from?" "How did you get started?" And, "Do you have children?" will serve as strong starters.
3. Develop active listening skills: Connecting is not about selling, it is about listening to the other person and showing them you are truly interested in them. Allow others to open up and talk freely. Give your undivided attention even if it is only for a few moments. Take an interest in what's said and acknowledge this by nodding or agreeing. Use positive body language such as facing them with lots of eye contact. This means you are not reading a text message or looking over the other person's shoulder to see who else is around.
4. Be a Giver: When you focus on helping others, the "getting" will follow. It will come in unexpected ways. Remember that no one likes a person with a "taker" mentality. When you are generous, people will notice and respect you.
And, people generally do business with people that they respect, trust, and like. Do simple things like act as a host at every event you attend by connecting others. This can be a simple act of introducing two people to each other, or as elaborate as giving a testimonial about a person and their services to the entire group. All of these acts allow you to focus on "others" while building equity amongst your peers.
5. Don't be Danny Downer: Put on a happy face at the door and smile. This is your time to glisten and shine. People will look forward to seeing you and meeting you if you are energetic, positive, and outgoing. Again, people enjoy doing business with people that they like. Be a person that others will like. Remind yourself of everything you are grateful for just before entering the event. Do not inconvenience people with your problems. Everyone has enough of their own, instead strive to make him or her forget their troubles while in your presence.
6. Don't Sell: Connecting is about building relationships with people who will be happy to tell others about who you are and what you do. Word of mouth and social proof are more valuable than you telling someone how great you are. At every opportunity, teach others about what you do and who you are, as a person. Provide valuable, useful information. Always present a clear emphasis on your mission and purpose.
7. Follow up with originality: Many people think that the same old email follow up is okay. Well it's not. After the event, send a hand written thank you card, or a poem you wrote about that person or a balloon bouquet. Mention something from your discussion in the communication. If you have truly made the connection, your follow up becomes easy and effortless.
By having a game plan, connecting with others becomes second nature. People get to see you as you are, not as a sterile business looking for sales. Events can be the best way to explode your business, but only if you are someone others want to do business with.