To some, the word "networking" conjures up ideas about stale meetings, a dry chicken entrée, or a room full of strangers where you feel completely out of place. Palms sweating and a head filled with negative thoughts, you enter the meeting thinking of ways to make a quick exit and get on with your "real" work.
I know these feelings well having been the person described above. I am an introvert at heart who can turn on extrovert qualities when necessary, I learned a few things along the way. As a former amateur figure skater and theatre performance minor and with hundreds of performances under my belt, I am quite accustomed to being in front of groups of hundreds and thousands. However, entering a conference room filled with people I don't know and stack of my business cards in my purse used to really get my knees knocking! But I kept doing it because somehow I knew it would be helpful to my business. What I didn't realize is how much it would also help me personally. I don't recall exactly when the shift happened for me, but I slowly uncovered a few things that made formal networking meetings much easier and even quite enjoyable for me. Here are few of my discoveries:
Discovery #1: Most everyone you meet falls into one of these categories:
- They need your products or services
- They know someone who needs your products or services
- They have information or contacts you need
Furthermore, you likely fall into one of the three categories for them as well. Several years ago, I embraced this realization and created a game for myself. I decided to meet at least three people at each networking meeting and see which of these categories they were in for me and which I was in for them. This was not something that I told them I was doing, I just did it to make my time at the meeting extremely intentional and worthwhile. I ended up meeting a lot of people by playing this game and started connecting people together. It really became a lot of fun for me! Before I knew it, people were calling me "The Great Connector," which was really funny to me because I didn't have deep relationships with many of these people yet. I was just listening to others, understanding their businesses and their needs and pointing them in the directions they told me they needed to go!
Discovery #2: I needed a "networking toolkit."
My networking toolkit consists of the following items:
- A very short commercial/elevator speech (10 seconds is all you need.)
- Business cards
- Calendar/schedule - to make appointments on the spot
- Address book - to make referrals on the spot
- Notebook and pen - to jot down notes
- Marketing material - to promote my business
I have also added a camera and personal video camera as well so I can take video easily and add it to my web site and blog. Having my networking toolkit at meetings helps me be prepared to make the most of meeting prospects, connecting others and promoting my business.
Discovery #3: Arrive early or stay late
To make an impact and find the movers and shakers at any event, I discovered that I needed to do one of two things: Arrive early or be one of the last to leave. By arriving just five minutes early, I found that I got to meet the people running the event. They are the ones who could point me in the right direction and introduce me to others that I needed to know. Also, I discovered that the people behind the registration table are usually "in the know." Let them know who you are and find out who they are too, because they can help you make the most of the meeting. Staying late is also a great networking strategy. Those who stay late are usually making appointments, doing business and connecting people!
Discovery #4: Keeping score is for sports, not networking
After becoming quite skilled at connecting people, someone once said to me, "Thank you for all the referrals! I hope to send as many people to you soon." While I appreciated her sentiment, I don't approach networking as a "this-for-that" kind of proposition. I don't expect anything but "thank you" from those I connect. It's not important to me to keep score of how many referrals I make to each person. The goal in networking is to meet and get to know people and figure out which one of the three categories from above they fall into. Once I figure that out, I know how to follow up with them.
Since learning these and other important networking lessons, I now approach networking as a way to build my community of incoming and outgoing referrals. I really enjoy networking, which I actually prefer to call "connecting" because I find it to be rewarding personally and professionally to connect great people together. And that is a part of creating my Rich Life™!