Networking – now there is a word that evokes a series of reactions.
On the positive side are the people we consider "amazing connectors." The seemingly everyone knows and always in search of help.
Then there are other types of networkers. Those who give you a business card before you are done with the presentation.
There is a right and a wrong way to build networks, and we want to give you the tools and confidence to build networks in a productive and effective way.
If you attended a networking event, standing in the corner with a drink in your hand, and not meeting a single person, this article is for you.
If you attended a conference, met some interesting people, but never talked to them again – this article is for you.
Even if you find it easy to network, you will learn new strategies to connect with people in a more meaningful and mutually beneficial way.
"How do you do that?"
We all know the connected people who seem to know everyone.
No matter what challenge or problem you have, your answer to it starts with "I know a man who …" or "I've met this amazing woman once, who …".
How does this happen? Are these people naturally charismatic? Are they really, really, really, ridiculously good looking?
Maybe the answer to both questions is yes, but that's not the secret. The reason why they can be so connected is due to two things:
- They are curious
- They are helpful
Combine these two things and you're well on the way to becoming a productive networker.
Of course that sounds great in theory, but how do you do that?
What happens if you attend a networking meeting and want to meet new people, but are introverted and do not know how to do it?
What if you go to a conference and there is the dreaded "mixer" and you have a great conversation with someone? You are going separate ways – what are you doing now?
Here are five strategies to help you meet new people and build a meaningful network.
1. Do you have good answers to the questions you are constantly receiving
You meet someone at an event and which questions will you answer in the first minutes?
"Where are you from?"
"How is it?"
"What brings you to the event?"
"Who was your favorite speaker today?"
You knows You will get these questions, so why not think about your answers?
For example, Thanh could say "I live in Austin" but would not make a better conversation when he says "I live here in Austin, but I grew up in the Netherlands Have you ever been there?"
The conversation could lead to how much the person loves Austin (who does not?), Or talk about that person's great European vacation, or who knows where.
I could Say "I work with computers" or "I do online training," but it's not more effective to say, "I'm the COO of a leadership training company where we help executives to be more productive." The only thing I work at home in my basement is that I'm so happy talking to other real people here … "
There is a chance that the conversation will talk about what kind of training we are doing or rather that I can NEVER work from home. Either way, great!
Note that we are not talking about a canned and boring elevator parking space here. It's more about anticipating common questions and getting forward-looking answers that drive conversation.
Now you might think, "My job is not very interesting" or "It sure works, if you live in Austin or Vancouver, but where I live, it's boring."
Trust me; there are always Something to talk about when you think about it. Recently I was in town with the world's biggest hockey stick.
One night I was in a bar (long story) talking to a marketing man for hours, whose whole town revolves around a faucet maker. There is always something!
2. Ask good questions
I just said how we always have the same questions in a network situation.
You, my friend, will be the exception. This is the opposite of the last tip: think of some questions that need to be answered in a network situation when needed.
Here are some examples:
- "Do you like to travel? What's your favorite place? "
- "Have you ever been to a great restaurant in town?"
- "I try to read more, have you read good books lately?"
- Ask her about her city. If there is a topic everyone knows where they live. Some time ago I talked to someone on the plane and he told me about this amazing lake where he lives in Guatemala. I did not see that coming.
- If you have a vague interest in sports, this can be helpful. If you meet someone from Minneapolis, you might ask, "Have you ever been in a Minnesota United game?" Even if you do not know much, you might ask, "I'm not really following football, how are the Vikings this year?"
- If you meet someone you follow in social media and you know that he is interested in a particular topic, this can be helpful. Especially if it is anything other than what the event is all about. An "SEO rock star" is probably fed up with SEO, but likes to talk about fly fishing or training routines.
3. Look for ways to help
When you meet someone, it's a mindset that will never misdirect you: "How can I help this person?"
Note that this does not serve to earn points. It is very likely and expected that (initially) you will not benefit from it.
If you help people, you will feel a) great and b) people always remember when you help them.
Here are some things to think about:
- Do you know someone who can help them with what they cling to?
- Do you know a great product or service that could solve your problems?
- Is there a website or podcast that they would love?
Over the years I have spent a bit of time with Tim Grahl,
A mindset that I have learned from him and that has always accompanied me: "Be relentlessly helpful."
If you have a relentlessly helpful mindset and apply it to networking, only good things will turn out over time.
4. Make plans immediately
Here you can bring your networking from decent to ninja level.
Think about how a meeting usually ends.
"Very nice to meet you."
"Do you have a card or something?"
"Sure, please, please let me know if you're ever in Austin."
"The same, if you ever come to Vancouver."
… and then you never talk to this person again.
Do not just swap cards, make plans to see them again or connect!
You need to read the room here, but there are some things to keep in mind:
- Lunch or dinner may seem like a to-do list for some people – especially busy people. The request to "drink coffee" or "meet for dinner" could be difficult, especially if they have a family.
- One way to get around this: Plan something your partner is involved in! Coffee can be a chore, but a dinner party can be exciting.
- If you have children the same age, a play date or a joint activity can be great. The children ride the waterslides, they make a deeper connection.
- If you know you like a particular sports team or event, tickets for a game or a hike may be more tempting than a dinner.
The key: If you know what you learned when you met someone, is there a way to suggest a follow-up or contact immediately? Even "Hey, what do you think of a Skype call at 3pm next Tuesday?" Is better than no follow-up.
Speaking of aftercare …
5. Follow the right path
Meeting someone is the most important but also the most neglected part.
Thanh calls this a "last mile error" and it is true. If you're introverted, you've done the hard part – you've surrendered there and met someone. Do not waste this emotional and mental energy now!
If you followed number 4 and made plans immediately, this is not a problem. They are already ahead of the game.
One strategy is to stay in touch via social media / occasional emails – loose connections can be surprisingly powerful.
If you want to be even more strategic, we have an article about staying in touch strategically and building your network through a contact manager. Find out more about what to do when you return from an event in our popular conference podcast episode.
(Funny fact: Thanh and Brooks met for the first time at the Macworld conference and have mostly stayed in touch at other conferences, so we have much to say on this subject!)
Where from here?
Suppose you are a massive introvert or feel that you are "shitting on the join" (possibly projecting here).
Here's what you do: Think of the last event you met.
Create an action or plan to reach and connect to this person. It does not matter if it was four years ago. I bet they are excited to hear from you, and if not, what did it cost you? An email? A tweet? No problem. You now have the tools for the next time.
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