We’ve all been there, a room full of people wearing their most professional-looking attire, everyone competing to be the most interesting person in the room. It feels like high school in the sense that you may not really want to be there but for some reason or another, you must be there. But before you start getting the networking sweats, take a shot, and read this as I do my best to be your guide through this odd business tradition we call networking.
1. Have an Agenda
Much like at the prom, one thing you should be very aware of is that everyone at a networking event has an agenda. This is okay, after all, you’re there to move your business forward, so come prepared with your own agenda. Think of what your goals are – is your main focus getting new clients or are you there to meet a particular person? Make a list of goals before you enter a room so you can remind yourself why you are there.
Having a list of your goals allows you to stay focused, and more importantly, it prepares you for the inevitable moment when all your plans fall through. Imagine this – you’re at a networking happy hour and your entire goal is to talk to Stanley, a marketing director you know spends $10k a month on display advertising. Unfortunately, everyone else is lining up to talk to that same person. If your goal is to talk to Stanley because he will give you X result ($10k monthly sale on display ads) but there’s a bunch of other people competing to get the same result, then the best strategy to achieve your goal will be to talk to Gary, Melissa, and Sasha who together spend about the same as Stanley on display ads but are all alone at the bar because everyone else is focusing on the big shot in the room. Develop an agenda that lets you focus on achieving tangible goals but be flexible about how you achieve said goals.
- Make a list of goals before walking in the room
- Be flexible and adjust your plan to best achieve your goals
2. Don't Be Boring
Introducing yourself is the hardest part of starting a conversation. All too often the room is packed, and approaching someone is so awkward that you might completely forget to say hello and just dive into whatever you wanted to say. The challenge of interacting with other business-minded humans in these settings is that the conversations are just so damn dry. People in networking events want to tell you stories about their jobs, how their product caused a 3% increase in profits for a client, or how “I single handedly closed this huge account, bro.”
Don’t be that person – that person is boring and lacks personality. Instead, start the conversation by asking them questions about who they are, not what they do. Ask them about something you’re also passionate about to find common ground. “Hey man, I’m Jay. Did you try the food/drinks? Anything I should try or avoid? Oh yeah dude, had these at a restaurant in San Francisco, have you ever visited?” The point is, don’t start the conversation with your LinkedIn bio, because, frankly, nobody cares. As my boy Merriam likes to say “networking is the cultivation of productive relationships”. Start by building a relationship, not by pitching.
- Ask questions about the person, not business
- Build a relationship
3. Bring Value
We’ve already established everyone at a networking event has an agenda and that agenda will always revolve around what can benefit themselves. This doesn’t mean you can’t break the mold and be the person others come to for advice. When building those relationships, ask questions about current pain points/problems they may be having at work or in life – this isn’t meant to be a pitch but a way to get to know the person better by understanding what they care about. You can give them a recommendation about a great restaurant you know for their next date night or advice on how to better engage people in social media because your Instagram game is sick. Find something of value you can add to their life, because everyone else in the room is just trying to add value to their own.
- Advice is free.
- Bring value to the relationship with something you’re knowledgeable about.
Networking is basically a boring form of dating, and like any successful relationship you need to keep the flow of communication going. Check in on the people you meet at networking events and continue to deliver value to them! One of my passions is throwing great parties and I’m lucky enough to work with an agency that feels the same way, so I’ll send invitations to our food events and conferences (like our upcoming Assembly Required: Innovators in Food). Find something unique you can share with your network and use it to engage with them in a meaningful manner – it’s all about the value you provide!
- Follow up. Keep the relationship active.
If this article made an impact on your networking skills, share it with us and your friends! Also feel free to look at some of these articles from Forbes and Entrepreneur that peaked our interest in the making of this blogpost!
Subscribe to our blog for more insights on networking, marketing, and design.