“Not another meeting…”
This has become the mantra for every corporate suit whose schedule is bursting with appointments, but networking is just as stressful. You spend your entire day meeting and greeting, exchanging business cards, and planning to email just about everyone in the cluster of states surrounding you. It’s looking like a busy week, and you’re ready to pull your hair out just thinking about it.
There’s no shortage of networking events to attend. You could easily double or triple book for the same day. Although this opens up more opportunities to meet new clients and fellow entrepreneurs, it’s exhausting! Who wants to go to three different networking events in one day? You’re already over-scheduled and stressed to the max. Schmoozing makes you feel like a used car salesman decked out in a cheap plaid suit.
If you think about it, there are other things you could be doing instead of attending another boring event and meeting the same people again. Whatever the reason, you’d better hope there’s a Starbucks nearby so that you can load up on caffeine; you’re going to need it.
Why Do We Hate Networking?
A University of Toronto study by Professor Tiziana Casciaro found that working adults who participated felt “demoralized” when attending networking events. All of the self-promoting and self-serving behaviors they had to show really turned their stomachs. However, senior partners that had been promoted to their positions due to high attendance at several networking events viewed the events in a much more positive light.
It could be the event that was the problem, but let’s start with a shift in perspective. Both of these groups attended the same type of event, but they each had different experiences. Perhaps it was the people and not the event that had a problem. What?! You mean I have to focus on my attitude instead of other people’s? Yes! A shift in your thinking can open the door to a wealth of new opportunities. How you approach a situation and what mindset you take can greatly affect your experience.
Just for the record, networking doesn’t always mean attending an event. There are other ways to forge relationships. It’s time to stop networking and focus more on connecting. Think beyond networking events and take control of your connecting advantage. By following these seven steps, you’ll learn how to turn networking hell into connecting nirvana.
#1 – Stop Talking Business!
Think back to the last event you enjoyed (hopefully there have been several!). It doesn’t have to be a networking event; it can be an outing with family and friends, a holiday party or a date. Whatever the event, you were relatively at ease and enjoyed the time you spent there. Maybe it was the appetizers at the holiday party with the expensive cheese that you love. Perhaps your date brought you to your favorite coffee shop, and you felt very relaxed in the atmosphere.
Conversations you had at these events felt natural and pleasant because there was no pressure to make a sale or snag another client. When the pressure is off, we tend to let our conversations flow without the hesitation we normally feel at networking events. The trick is to stop thinking of it as a networking event and more of a chance to make a connection. It doesn’t have to be all business all the time. I’ve met some of my closest friends at networking events. It wasn’t planned, but when I opened myself up to more connections than just those related to business, I felt much more confident. I changed my mindset and began focusing on listening with the intent of adding value. Meaningful connections start with a meaningful conversation.
#2 – Have A Target
I say the word “target,” and the image of a row of people most likely popped into your head. Each person is standing still with a deer in headlights look on their face, staring at you, waiting for you to hand them your business card. That’s networking the wrong way. It shouldn’t be a game of hit or miss.
Networking events can be really frustrating when you don’t have a clear idea of why you’re there and who you want to meet. Having a plan before you attend a networking event will give you a better chance of achieving your goal.
This method works because of what’s called the Reticular Activating System (RAS) in our brains. It’s your subconscious mind’s mental filter, and it prioritizes information based on how important it is to you using your visuals. The RAS filters out all information that is irrelevant and hones in on what visual images it wants you to pay attention to. It’s like an arrow finding a target. In this way, it helps us focus on what our most important goal is at a networking event in order to achieve it. If you don’t know what (or who) you’re looking for, you won’t find it.
The next time you attend an event set a goal of making two great connections. This doesn’t mean a connection to snag a sale. Consider that people, resources and information that could be beneficial for your clients. This takes you from a networking mindset to a connecting mindset, and the results are worth the shift.
#3 – Get Out Of The Office
Your best connections can happen outside of a networking event. You don’t always have to hold meetings in an office or professional setting. Depending on who you are meeting with and what the goal of your meeting will be, you can adjust your settings to somewhere more comfortable. Obviously, if you’re going to be talking about something private, you’ll need a quiet space to discuss business. On the other hand, if the conversation doesn’t involve private information, a coffee shop can be the ideal location, helping both you to feel more at ease.
I’m not saying you have to use the coffee shop for every meeting, but you should intentionally plan a meeting there once or twice a week. What’s even better is blocking your meetings so you can introduce the person you are meeting with to the one who is leaving. This could be a referral partner, potential client or someone you’re interested in exploring business opportunities with. It’s one of the reasons I love the coffee shop. I walked into my favorite cafe one time and sat facing the door. I could see everyone who was coming in without losing eye contact with my client. If someone I knew walked in, I took the chance to make an introduction. It just happened that we were both at the right place at the right time, which wouldn’t have been possible if we were stuck in an office.
#4 – Remember The 40% Rule
I bet you’re wondering just what the “40% rule” is. The 40% rule is a method used by Navy Seals to increase their mental toughness. It can also be used in everyday aspects of your own life, whether it’s for a job or just dealing with all of the hustle and bustle. The rule states that if you think you’ve reached your limit, you’ve only given about 40% of what you’re capable of. This pushes the boundaries of what you can do and forces you to build endurance and mental toughness.
The 40% rule gets even better when you know that it’s scientifically-backed. A 2008 study from the European Journal of Neuroscience showed that the participants who were given placebos did significantly better than those who received actual caffeine. They were able to lift more weight for longer. It goes to show that our mindset is half the battle when it comes to making connections and accomplishing goals. Motivation is the driving force behind what energy we have before and during a networking event, no matter what the location. When you think you’ve come to the end of your rope, remember the 40% rule and push yourself a little further.
#5 – Always Be Curious
If you reach the end of a conversation and find that you don’t know anything about the person you’re talking to, then you may have been talking way to much. It’s easy to get caught up in a subject that’s interesting to us and blab on and on about our own interests. However, this doesn’t exactly help you learn anything about the other person. You’re never going to find out about another person if you don’t take the time to listen. Be curious! Ask great questions, and you may just get great answers. Listen without an agenda.
There’s an old adage – FROG (family, recreation, occupation and goals). This can be very helpful if you aren’t sure what you want to ask them. The four subjects in FROG can get a conversation started by asking a few basic questions. Following are a few examples with insights:
Family: Did you grow up in this area? (This is a little less invasive then asking, “Do you have any family?”)
Recreation: What do you like to do for fun? (Helps you to uncover mutual interests)
Occupation: What do you like best about the work you do? (You’ll learn about what makes them tick)
Goals: What goals that you’ve set for this year? (You may have a resource that would be beneficial)
From there, it’s just a matter of following the line of conversation and discovering new questions that you want to ask them. See just how much you can find out about the other person. You may just end up making a connection in the process!
#6 – Think Social
When it comes to networking, a lot of people tend to forget about social media. After all, social networks like Facebook and Twitter are just for fun, right? Wrong! Social media is a great way to connections for both personal and professional use. I, myself, have made many meaningful connections thanks to social media. It wasn’t always like this, though. When I was first starting out, I had an bad habit of creating social media accounts and leaving them to collect some virtual dust. Little did I know that social media was my ticket to making some of my most valuable connections and expanding my personal brand.
Spending time on social media should be productive, and having a strategy keeps you from falling into a black hole that doesn’t get you any results. Using social media strategically can lead to a number of fantastic connections. It’s like one big game of “Six Degrees of Separation.” Social media gives you the opportunity to connect with potential and existing clients who are on the same platform you are.
Depending on which platform you’re using, there are different ways to connect. If you’re on LinkedIn, you can send them a connection invitation. Of course you’ll want to customize this. Twitter may simply be a matter of following them and re-tweeting their content to get the conversation started.
If it’s Facebook, for example, who are the friends that you haven’t talked to in awhile or could be a beneficial connection in business? There’s no time like the present to reach out. Set a goal of reaching out to at least one person a week to reconnect. I also wrote a LinkedIn publisher post on the power of handwritten notes. It’s amazing how taking a little time each week can forge meaningful relationships.
#7 – Making Connecting A Habit
Once again, mindset is everything. If you’ve thought of networking as a mini-version of hell, then keep in mind that it will take awhile for your brain to shift that thought to a connecting mindset. A European study from the European Journal of Social Psychology tells us that it takes approximately 66 days for the mind to form a new habit. This means that you have to train your brain by repetition. The more you network, the easier it will become. It’s mind over matter, as they say.
For extroverts, it can be easy to jump right into the fray of networking, but introverts may have more trouble. The trick is to take small steps and celebrate victories wherever you find them. Daily success helps reinforce networking as a habit, so don’t hesitate to do a victory lap when you reach your daily goal. Introverts will find special benefit with this method because one small “win” can be repeated for more success. I’ll be talking more on this subject in future blog posts.
Remember – networking doesn’t just mean attending an event. Your connecting advantage can be achieved with a few simple, easy-to-follow steps. After all, it’s not rocket science.
Stop talking business and just start talking!
- Have a target/goal when attending an event or meeting a potential connection.
- Get out of the office and find the right meeting place.
- When you think you’re done, remember the 40% rule to get motivated!
- Always be curious and ask questions.
- Think social.
- Make connecting a habit.
Networking doesn’t have to be a mini-version of hell. Making connections is as easy as following these seven steps. You’ll soon be floating in your very own connecting nirvana.
If you like what you read, want to dive deeper, and are ready to supercharge your networking to reach your goals, get Your Connecting Advantage on Amazon.com