Astoundingly simple ways to make networking easier and more enjoyable
Have you ever come away from a networking meeting feeling frustrated about the experience or the (lack of) results you get from networking? What if you could make networking easier and more enjoyable so you connect with the right people but it doesn’t feel like hard work?
Networking is a proven way to get business especially when you’re looking for new clients or projects in a specific geographical area. But it always amazes me how many people never get the results they want. People often tell me that it seems as if the people they meet aren’t interested in what they do. Or that it’s too hard to make an impression.
I used to run networking events for 8 years, and in that time I met hundreds of people with different networking approaches.
There are those who come armed with high expectations, an exciting sounding elevator speech (introduction) and yet still they walk away feeling disappointed.
And then there is the networker whose main goal is to promote something (or themselves) and hand out as many business cards as possible during the meeting.
I can also remember my own first ever networking meeting as if it was yesterday. I had just started my second (coaching) business and had no real idea what to do other than tell people what I do for a living. (And I didn’t even do that very well!)
Prior to that meeting I’d never needed to network formally in my first business. But that was during the late 1990s when everything was different as many small business owners still got good results from local advertising.
The trouble with networking is that once you tell yourself that networking could lead to your next client or job, it can make you feel under pressure. Especially when you may have heard that it’s all just about promoting yourself and your business. But in my view that’s only a very minor part of it, and it’s probably best to park that idea for now.
Whilst there are many other reasons why people feel apprehensive, there are a couple of common barriers that hold people back, which are surely recognised by many readers!
The first one is about wanting to try out a new group, when you don’t know anyone there!
How to make networking easier by planning ahead
It’s always worth remembering that you are not alone with your concerns. Everyone who networks has to find their own way to deal with their worries or insecurities when they first join a new group. For many people this means stepping out of their comfort zone, even if the effort that’s required is different for different people.
Luckily you will find that some hosts are happy to help ‘newbies’. They may welcome you personally as well as introduce you to other attendees when you first arrive. And if they don’t, why not approach them and explain that it’s your first meeting and you’re not sure where to start.
At our events, new people would sometimes contact me prior to the event to ask for a little help or an introduction. What a great idea!
Make networking easier by knowing what to say
Once at the meeting you can also try and find other people who appear not to know anyone either. They may not be ‘mixing and mingling’ much and are observing more from the sideline.
Another good way to find people to talk to, is to make your way to the bar or the food/ buffet area, if there is one. You will often find people there to start a conversation with.
But that can be a real stumbling block too if you don’t have a clue how to start a conversation.
It’s probably best to reserve any rehearsed introduction or elevator speech for later. Much better to start off by asking the other person open questions.
These are questions that begin with ‘what, when, how’ type of question words and require a longer answer than a simple ‘yes’, or ‘no’.
For example…“Excuse me, how are these meetings organised? It’s my first visit to this group.”
Once a conversation has started, people will invariably introduce themselves and tell each other what they do. An experienced networker may even take the lead at this point and that will definitely make networking easier!
If you happen to meet someone who seems a little more reserved, just ask them what they do and show that you’re interested in them.
Once you know what they do, you could try one of my favourite questions which is how they got into their particular career or business. More often than not, they will share an interesting story and enjoy the fact that you’re showing an interest.
Asking questions always goes hand in hand with good listening skills!
Try to listen very carefully in order to be able to ask the right questions. Allowing the interaction to develop in this way makes it flow more naturally and enables you to find out if there is any synergy between you.
Synergy will not develop from a simple exchange of business cards, but a process of getting to know each other and discovering what you may have in common. I find this one of the best ways to be remembered long after the meeting!
Whilst these are very simple relationships building tools, practising them all the time, even at social events will stand you in good stead when it comes to networking…. anywhere!