Being dropped into a room full of strangers and left to converse with them is terrifying even for the most courageous of us.
It’s uncomfortable. It’s uninteresting. It’s unnatural. Too bad it’s not also unnecessary.
Regardless of how much you hate networking, you realize it’s an essential component in growing your business or landing that dream job.
And so, through gritted teeth, you network.
But here’s the problem. Because you’re totally bored and completely put off by networking, you’re doing it wrong. Which is perfectly understandable since you haven’t learned how to do it properly.
Here are five mistakes people make when networking and how to correct them.
1. Trying to take the “work” out of networking
Networking is more than telling others what you do, what you’d like to do and then shoving a business card in their face. It’s about building relationships.
Whether professional or platonic or romantic, relationships take time. They take effort.
You don’t create lasting connections with people by asking them for a favor as soon as you meet them.
Before you attempt to use someone, make yourself useful.
How can you help them accomplish their goals?
You don’t have to give them your million dollar business ideas, but you should add value to their lives. You could recommend something as simple as a newspaper article on a topic you know they’re passionate about. Or introduce them to people with whom they share similar interests.
It’s human nature to want to help people who help you. Show that you’re an excellent resource to others. And when you really need a favor, you won’t have to ask.
2. Failing to follow up.
So you had an exhilarating conversation with an influential employee of a company you’d like to interview with. Six months from now, you’re all but forgotten if you don’t stay in touch.
You don’t have to grab lunch with everyone you meet.
You don’t have to send an “It was a pleasure meeting you” email to all the random people you encountered at a professional event. If it makes you feel any better, they probably won’t remember you anyway.
With that said, how hard is it to “friend” someone on Facebook or connect with her on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter? Are you too busy to reply to her status updates on social networking sites? What does it cost you to subscribe to her blog and comment on relevant articles?
Maintaining contact via email isn’t always necessary, but it is an option. (Remember when our only means of contact were either in-person, over the phone, or a written letter? Eek!) Unless someone was particularly helpful or amusing, I generally won’t follow up via email. There’s too much pressure to write something thoughtful.
3. Looking like a loser.
Whenever someone tells me, “I hate networking,” the next statement out of their mouths is almost always, “I don’t know what to talk about.”
Engulfing yourself in a game of Angry birds won’t make you look any less loserly.
And dragging along a friend who has no business at the event other than to keep you company makes you appear immature and codependent. So don’t think these actions are viable alternatives to actually speaking with other professionals.
The funny thing is if you ask the right questions, you won’t have to do much talking at all.
To get the conversation started, I’ll introduce myself and ask the person what motivated them to attend the event? If I spot the name of their company on a name tag or an item their carrying, I may ask what their company does.
From the information they’ve provided, I’ll either ask them more questions to keep ’em talking or share related information about me. At this point, the other person is probably asking me questions, we’re learning things about one another, laughing and having a grand ol’ time.
If what I’ve described sounds fantastical, there is another solution: eavesdropping.
You’re not listening for gossip. You’re listening for a commonality you share with the other individual. At some point, you can break the ice with “I heard you mention something about ______. I find that fascinating. Can you tell me your opinion on _____?
See how easy that is?
4. Waiting until they need something to start.
Are you so remarkable everyone in a room will remember you the first time they set eyes upon you? Maybe. But us mortals have to work a bit harder to get people to notice us.
You don’t want to wait until after you’ve thrown a pomegranate margarita in your boss’s face to start building your network. It should already be in place.
I heard we’re exposed to a marketing message an average of seven times before we decide whether to purchase the product or not. There’s some debate on whether that assertion is true, but I’ll bet you’re exposed to the things you buy several times before you open your wallet.
Look at networking the same way. When someone decides to help you get something you want, they probably didn’t make that decision upon your first meeting.
5. Thinking networking only happens at “networking” events.
Networking can happen anywhere at any time.
If you’re attending a class, waiting in line at H&M, whatever. You can meet people at church, at your favorite charity, the gym, wherever. If you’re alone, don’t just sit/stand there staring into space. Introduce yourself to the person next to you. Take advantage of the chances you have to engage new people.
What tricks do you use to make networking easier?