THE ANTISOCIAL NETWORKER
As festive networking pandemonium rolls in, Chrissie has racked her brain to figure out what makes a great serial networker. And what you should never, ever do…
I’ve met people to whom networking comes as naturally as breathing. I’ve also met many who break into a cold sweat at the very thought of it and start panicking days in advance. One thing I’m certain these people all have in common, is that they could all be better at it. See, there’s a fine art to networking – it’s not just a case of confidently turning up; not if you want your networking acquaintances to become clients or at the very least champions of how great you are and how much other people should meet you.
Now I hasten to add, I’m not a networking pro by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve ballsed up enough networking events to know what I should have done better. However, what I do really well is observe and reflect. And thus I would like to share some of that painful wisdom with you!
This is how I believe you network like a God damn pro:
Choose the format wisely. Personally I loathe events where everyone is forced to stand up one by one and do a 60 second ‘elevator pitch’. I find them fake and forced. That said, I’m well aware these events are fruitful for many a small business, so if you like them, don’t let me put you off. But if they make you uncomfortable or disengaged, find a more casual event where you’re not made to feel like you’re taking part in a school show and tell session. If you pick the right style of event, you’ll be relaxed and happy and you’ll be yourself. The most important thing of all.
Embrace your natural body clock. Do NOT go to breakfast networking if you take ages to get ready and hate mornings. And avoid evening networking like the plague if you’re an exhausted rat bag after 6pm. Generally lunchtime networking is a good catch-all option when most people can be wide awake and alert with a sociable disposition.
Rock up on time. I find it impossible to be anywhere on time and I pay for my sins whenever I go to a networking event where I don’t know anyone. Because late comers just end up making friends with the free nibbles. Unless you’re the Wolf of Wall Street and people fall over themselves to pat you on the back and buy you drinks as soon as you walk in, get there early. Even those with superhuman levels of self-confidence will find it difficult to break into closed conversation circles in a room full of people they don’t know. When you’re one of the first there, people will naturally gravitate towards you, introduce themselves and trust me, it all gets easier from there.
Have a drink. If there’s alcohol and unless you’re teetotal, I do advise having one drink, early doors, on a reasonably empty stomach. But I did only say one. Because one loosens you up enough to relax and let the inner you shine. Don’t get drunk and don’t go looking for alcohol at a breakfast event. You’ll look like you took a detour en route to your AA meeting.
Stand facing the door. When you do get there early, make sure you’re facing the way in, because you can smile welcomingly at other people who turn up alone. You’d want people to do that to you and you’ll find most of the time, they’ll come over to chat.
Be yourself. So many people go into robot mode when they enter uncomfortable territory. They speak mechanically about what they do, they ask predictable questions and they’re a bloody bore. I’d rather get to know you as a person first, not as the spokesperson for your business. We’re all human beings and we engage effectively when we spark off other people. Let them see who you are. For all the people who think you’re a weirdo, just as many will ‘get you’. And that’s the jackpot.
Respect people’s personal space. Getting too close is not something I’m guilty of unless I can’t hear over the music. (By the way organisers, that is SO not conducive to effective networking!) But I know people who stand way too close to people whenever they have a conversation, to the point where I’ve been convinced they’re about to move in for a kiss. I do not want to smell your breath, have spit land in my drink or inspect that herb between your teeth. Find a toothpick, man! And back away, please. (I’ve hard you can lick someone’s face for lolz if they get too close, but it’s not really my bag.)
Try not to be a douche bag. You’d be surprised (or maybe you wouldn’t?) how many people let basic social graces evade them at a crucial time like this; letting insecurity get the better of them and undermining their industry peers by being argumentative, rude and dismissive. I’m sure you never do this, but just in case you do, stop!
Don’t force your cards on people. People will ask for one, when they want one. They really will. Don’t make yourself look arrogant or worse still, desperate. When someone rams a card into my hand before I’ve even shown a passing interest in what they do, I have to confess, I just throw it in the bin.
Give a little. Apparently it’s the season of goodwill, so maybe now’s as good a time as any to learn this simple trick – dish out a bit of free advice. Yes, we’re all in business to make money, but a bit of showing off what you know never hurt anyone. Business today is so competitive and there’s bound to be at least one other person in the room that does what you do. So take a moment to shine and give someone a little leg up, not to mention a reason to remember you and that you’re great at what you do.
Get a grip. When all is said and done, even in the worst possible networking scenario you find yourself in, these are only human beings, just like you. They’re all insecure in some way and they’re all self conscious, so take comfort from that and soldier on. Imagining them stood around naked might help too. Careful you don’t get excited though, that’s not networking etiquette at all…
Keep going. Don’t stop because you think it’s hopeless or you don’t seem to be succeeding. Just commit to a group and go regularly. It gets so much easier the more you go, after a few months you’ll know most of the people in the room and you’ll actually start to enjoy yourself.