People are quick to complain and slow to praise. Review sites are filled with folks waiting to tell you about their unpleasant experiences. Ask someone, anyone, about a networking event and you're bound to hear horror story after horror story. Utter rudeness. Outright rejections. Awkward encounters. Until now; cue the story of Red Feather Networking.
Picture this: an International conference, 8,000+ attendees, 4 days, and one lone traveler.
Event planners that set up and promote social media engagements prior to the event are setting up their attendees for success. A successful event generally means successful repeat events. Walt Disney once said,
"Whatever you do, do it well. Do it so well that when people see you do it they will want to come back and see you do it again and they will want to bring others and show them how well you do what you do."
This International conference had done just that. They set up several social media avenues where people could connect prior to the event. It was there, that the one lone traveler reached out to other lone travelers. Weeks before the conference, introductions were made, friendships were formed, and networking had begun. There was a hitch. How was this growing group of online friends every going to take their online connection off-line in a sea of 8,000+ people?
A single red feather.
The group had decided that they put a red feather in their conference name badge. The plan was if you were to run into someone in the massive group of people who had a red feather, you knew they were one of your new online friends. They were approachable. They were a judgement free safe zone. All you had to do was go up and say hello. Would it work? Well, it seemed unlikely. After all, 30 people with feathers among 8,000 people didn't make for good odds.
Surprise! The single red feather worked like a charm!
First 2 people met, then 3, 11, 33, 50, 75 and the group kept growing and growing. People who were not a part of the pre-conference online social media exchange became curious about the feathers and would ask what it stood for and how they could get one. Hearing that, the only thing you needed to do to "earn" a feather in your badge was to be friendly and approachable, had hundreds and hundreds of people donning feathers by the end of the conference.
Did the concept of "Red Feather Networking" stand the test of time?
Yes. No. When networking is done on that scale, it is illogical to think that everyone will be besties for the rest of their life. However, the majority of those who participated in that inaugural red feather form of networking are still in touch today. Professionally, they are a network on the ready to collaborate or lend a helping hand. Armed with suggestions and feedback, they support each other from all points on the globe. They celebrate the wins and commiserate the losses. Many have become personal friends. The types of friends who visit each other's homes, send goodies from vacation destinations, and provide a shoulder to cry on when everything isn't so peachy. The practice of placing the feather in the name badge has also stood the test of time. Four years later, people are still meeting in this very unique and non-threatening way.
Networking doesn't have to be slimy or icky. You don't have to bring 100 business cards and hand out every single one nor do you have to shake every hand in the room. If you network for the sale you may get one sale but if you network for the connection than you have gained so much more.
Here are 5 tips on networking that will help you build a solid foundation and grow a strong circle of connections.
- Be yourself from the start. Anyone will see right through you if you're putting on "airs" in order to impress them. People want to do business with people they like so be authentically you.
- Pace yourself. Connections, made correctly, will be long lived so don't make that first meeting all about you and your product.
- Be curious. The best way to get to know people is to listen and to have a genuine curiosity.
- Make the effort. Events are high energy and people get wrapped up in the moment. As soon as they return back to work, that quickly weans and it's business as usual. Make the effort to stay in touch. A short email, text, or even snail mail communication is often met with pleasant surprise.
- Be a good addition. You meet people every single day and not every person is going to be a good fit for your network. The reverse is true. Many people will meet you and not jive with you in that way. When there is a mutual connection, be sure to be a good addition to their network. Be someone they can count on and it is very likely that they will do the same.
Networking doesn't have to be filled with horror stories. Sure, not everyone is open and welcoming. You will be met with resistance from time to time and that is just the nature of the beast. But with each unsuccessful encounter you have, just remember to network Red Feather style and see what happens.