If you work in business development, networking events are not just a requirement, but a necessity. “Networking needs to be done consistently throughout a career,” wrote The Wall Street Journal. “From the very first moment you begin to realize that your idea is worth pursuing,” Richard Branson said, “The first step on the road to success is building a network.” Except, for many of us, especially those just starting out, building a network is an elusive goal- a modern day City of Eldorado. That’s why I’ve spent some time developing 5 networking tips that not only build relationships, but lead to more click moments.
The first step is to simply start attending networking events. If you haven’t attended an event before, and are unsure of why you should go, here are some of my favorite reasons:
Raise your personal profile
Learn new ideas, industry tips and insider trends
Develop ‘referral networks’ by educating your contacts in exactly what you’re looking for
Meet new friends or gain a support system
Locate new joint venture partners or strategic alliances
Uncover new business opportunities
Source mentors who can teach you to avoid mistakes that they have made
After attending a few events I began to ask myself a few questions: How do you form a working relationship from just a few minutes of face time? How do you ensure that your contact follows up? And most importantly, how do you maximize your time at the event?
These five tips should help:
1. Replace the Question “What do you do?”
In 2003 Leil Lowndes published a great book titled, “How to Talk to Anyone”. One of her best suggestions is to replace the common line “What do you do?,” with “How do you spend most of your time?” The first is a direct question, and can make even the best-intentioned person seem like a disingenuous networker or a salesman eying a new mark. The second allows people to steer the conversation themselves, but will get you to the professional discussion in a round about way. They will undoubtedly say, “Oh god, I spend most of my time working”, and then you can ask as many professional questions as you can think of.
This question also allows the responder to reveal a bit more about themselves, “I spend most of my time working, but I really enjoy….”, thus creating a whole new avenue to create more click moments.
2. The Power of “We”
In The Seven Levels of Intimacy, Mathew Kelly outlined seven layers (types) of relationships. I boiled them down to four key levels to help you keep them in mind in your when you talk to the various people that you encounter at networking events:
Level 1: Clichés - Strangers tend to use clichés to drum up conversations.
Level 2: Facts - Acquaintances usually stick with the facts and how things are.
Level 3: Feelings and Personal Questions - Friends usually open the door a little bit and reveal their thoughts, feelings, and ask each other personal questions.
Level 4: “We” Statements - Close friends, family, or loved ones tend to talk about themselves as collective units, representative of a close-knit bond linked through common experiences.
The power of using “we” (and the pronoun ‘us’) is a loophole to get to the real substance of any close relationship. It nurtures the feelings of ‘togetherness’ and allows the listener to feel connected with you. Discussing with your fellow New Yorkers after Superstorm Sandy, “We really got hit hard” is a great example of how you can use a common event that both of you went through. Subconsciously, it bring you closer with the person you are talking to and subliminally hints that you might already be friends, thus leading more opportunity to create a click moment with them.
Sometimes you have no idea how to continue a conversation you are having your partner. A very simple technique from Straight-Talker, used by most salespeople and conversational experts, requires you to repeat the last few words your conversation partner said. This immediately puts the ball back in their court and only requires you to listen and take the conversation down another path. This technique can also be used to wring out more information and feelings from your conversation partner to build off of to create more click moments.
4. Don’t Just Ask for Their Business Card–Help Them!
This is a personal favorite of mine because I hate asking for business cards at the end of my conversations. But you would ask, “how do I still get their business card?” Simple, unselfish help. The power of you helping someone out goes a long way in regards to creating a mutual working relationship, something I’ve learned from our very own Chief of Strategy. Generally speaking, people who attend networking events are trying to solve a challenge or issue they are faced with by meeting “the right person”. If you can really understand where they are coming from and can either offer your connections, skills, or experience in solving their issues, it assigns a source of value to yourself. In turn, it gives them a reason to give you their business card and they will actively follow up with your email with no reservations. In turn, they will feel gratitude to your efforts and will actively try to help you create click moments with their resources and connections.
5. Search, Find, Conquer
One of the most effective ways to increase your productivity at networking events is the method of Search, Find & Conquer (SFC).
Search: Go out of your way to search for a list of people who will be attending the event and pick out the top 5-7 people who you would like to speak with. Your mission is to reduce the time spent at the event and still get the most amount of quality connections.
Find: When you arrive at the event, carefully find out where your selected few individuals are and make it a point to approach them. If you know someone else at the event who also knows your “selected few”, ask them to make an introduction!
Conquer: Use the previous techniques to stun your conversation partner and leave them with a great impression of you.