“Can I have your business card?”
“Why? You don’t even know who I am!?”
Networking events are filled with many different characters. There is always the person who “throws up” on you and discusses why they are so great and how they have “the perfect opportunity specifically for you.” Then there are the people that are there to strictly generate leads. “Can I have your card? Can I have your card? Did I ask yet if I can have your card?”
The people that go home with the most opportunities and actually enjoy these events are the most confident people in the room. Why are they the most confident? They understand that they provide great value to their clients and they aren’t desperate for business. They instead build rapport with potential clients and create referral sources. They also find ways to keep in touch, rather than pushing for a sit-down meeting.
- Networking is about creating opportunities through building rapport, not to generate immediate sales.
Rapport sometimes becomes lost in the ecosystem of sales. It is harder to measure and difficult to maintain with new contacts. It’s easier to track sales due to dollars added to the top-line.
I pride myself as a Rapport Marketer and enjoy getting to know people on a personal level rather than just recognizing their job title. I’m finding success with these efforts and feel like I’m onto something. These points are consistently in my mind when I attend networking events and I recommend you remember these tips at your next one.
#1: Don’t Sell Off-the-Bat.
One of the ways to ensure success is to forget about the sell at the beginning. Get to know the person and recognize if they’re suitable as a potential client. The relationship needs to be mutually beneficial and not everyone will provide value to your business as a client.
People are guarded and pride themselves as their own decision-maker. Once they feel pressured to make a quick decision, you’ve lost the relationship.
Get to know them. My favorite question, “What do you do for fun?” Their answer clues you on their lifestyle and you’ll feel the chemistry if a potential business relationship makes sense.
#2: Be Genuine
When you speak to someone, focus on them. Give them the respect and the genuine interest that you would appreciate in return. This means, leave the phone in your pocket and prevent wandering eyes that search for other people to meet. Actively listen and notice your body language as well as your eye contact.
Ask questions that you actually want to hear their answer. Think about: what does this person do that interests me?
Our culture asks disingenuous questions without needing answers too often. People pick up on the forced questions and you’ll notice the energy gets sucked out of the conversation.
- Ask questions with intention so you’ll enjoy the conversation.
As for non-networking events, like passing someone in a hallway, there’s this habit of asking, “How [are] you doing?” while the person just keeps walking. This means that they acknowledge you but don’t want to participate in conversation or want to hear the answer? Let’s all replace this habit with simply saying, “Good morning/afternoon/evening.” No question mark attached. You’re stating: I acknowledge you yet don’t have time for a conversation.
#3: Know Your Brand
What are you good at and what do you have to offer?
- Remember your brand.
Your business fits certain clients and you need to communicate that effectively. Instead of crafting the perfect elevator pitch, find ways to show your value by explaining your unique brand with a story.
To help create this story, first self-reflect and understand how your business provides value to your clients. Then ask your clients why they chose your business rather than choosing a competitor. By compiling this information, you’ll develop a story and find the brand that makes you unique as a business or as a member of your organization.
This strategy of story-telling comes across as more genuine, less pushy, and most importantly, confident.
#4: Stay Positive
Avoid toxic behavior. If you notice a “Debbie-downer” (The classic Saturday Night Live skit is at the end of this article), try to positively change the subject to uncontroversial topics. Politics, melancholic subjects, and open criticism are all examples of toxic conversations that can spiral downwards and suck all of your positive energy out.
If you notice someone drinking too many cocktails, try to avoid them or politely leave the conversation. Chances are they came to the event for the drinks, not to create new opportunities. If someone is getting controversial, don’t try to change their opinion in this setting. If you feel like someone pushes for everyone’s card to generate leads, make personal business cards without any contact information. Mutually beneficial: they get a card and you cleverly escaped.
You came to network, not for the alcohol, not to get into arguments, and not to enter people’s sales pipelines. Leave these toxic conversations and go back to your original goal to network with potential clients or to create new referral sources.
#5: Don’t try to mesh with everyone
Not everyone at the event will become a client. Not all of the people will like you. People are there for the free food, to generate leads, to promote their business, or to create new opportunities.
- Provide value where you want to provide value.
If someone speaks about an issue that your business doesn’t solve, don’t try to solve it. Instead introduce them to someone at the networking event that can solve their issue, refer one of your contacts, or respectfully say that area isn’t your focus.
This is important to remember because many people attempt to provide value by tossing out ideas when unasked. When you try to wear multiple hats and cater towards everyone’s needs your desired identity might be lost.
I made many mistakes but I’ve learned from them and now keep in mind the aforementioned points each time I go to a networking event. The trick is to self-reflect and notice what works and what doesn’t. If you aren’t learning from your mistakes, you’re destined to repeat them.
To alleviate the pressure of networking, attend an event with a trusted friend or colleague and ask them to evaluate you and then provide some constructive feedback. Be nice and offer to do this in return. By completing this exercise, you’ll likely notice you’re more conscientious of your behavior while staying true to your goals.
When someone asks you for your card after hearing your story, take a moment to reflect on that conversation. What did you do well that enticed this person to ask for your information? Repeat those habits that sparked genuine interest to connect. Build your networking skills from those situations.
Here’s a challenge: go to a networking event! With practice and experience, people will see you as the most confident person in the room because you understand that rapport comes first and business comes second.