The first rule of networking is: Don’t be an Ahole. The second rule is… DON’T BE AN AHOLE!!!
Seriously. If you want to know how to network successfully without coming across like an Ahole, it pays to know what a real networking Ahole looks like.
Of course, you already know how critical it is to know how to network for business and how to network for yourself.
Most people think that effective networking is all about meeting as many people as possible and telling them as much as you can about yourself and what you do.
If this is your approach at a networking event and you can’t spot the Ahole, chances are it’s you. (Sorry!!!)
But I’ve got you covered.
In this article, you’ll see how to network successfully in 8 simple (counterintuitive) steps that anyone can do, even if you are insanely introverted, even if you’ve never had success networking before, and all without turning you into the kind of Ahole that even you wouldn’t want to meet.
Click a section below to go straight to one of the steps (or better still, just read on).
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Step #1: Have No Plan
All the books and texts on how to network will tell you that you must go with a plan.
Look up who’s coming; research them; seek them out; hand out your business card.
Great plan as long as you don’t mind being that Ahole we’ve been trying to avoid.
The problem with this approach is that it turns you into precisely the kind of person that no one likes to meet. Everyone can smell an agenda from a mile off, and if you’re giving off that strong ‘hunter’ scent, you’ll just scare people off. Because as I discovered in my younger bar-hopping days, there is nothing so unattractive as the cologne of desperation.
Instead, be like water, my friend – as the late great Bruce Lee would say. Go with the flow.
Don’t have an agenda. See who you see. Meet who you meet.
Networking is like a box of chocolate. You never know what you’re going to get. And you certainly can’t know know how good it’ll be until you actually bite into it. So, stop trying to predict or bend the experience.
Steve Jobs deliberately designed Apple offices to have corridors where workers from different departments would meet organically and exchange ideas. Out of these chance meetings came some of the greatest products every created.
Likewise, the best connections you’ll make will be unpredictable and organic. So, be like water, my friend.
Step #2: Go Alone
Forget your fear. Abandon the groups. Ditch the wingman.
Striking out alone is the only way to go. Yes, it’s scary. Who said it would be easy. Suck it up! This is your future we’re talking about and the future is always partly scary. If you go in a group or with a friend “for company”, you’ll just end up staying within your comfort zone.
Networking is all about making new connections and you can’t do that by hanging onto the connections you already have.
Won’t I look like a no-friend loser?
Only to other Aholes and you don’t want to waste your time meeting them. Of course, if you just stand in the corner pretending to check something important on your smartphone, people will just ignore you, which is even worse than being thought of as a billy-no-mates.
Instead, stride confidently up to someone or a group that looks interesting and go with step number 3.
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Step #3: Interrupt
Yeah, I said it!
The flip side of going solo is that you have to get comfortable with initiating conversation.
If you see a group that looks interesting, just stride right up, wait for a natural pause in the conversation and say:
“hey guys, do you mind if I join you. I came alone”
This works a charm because it shows:
- confidence (by coming alone but still engaging);
- that you’re not the Ahole (because you waited rather than breaking their conversation);
- you are happy to give them the power (of refusal) since you are letting them reject you if they want to (but nobody ever does)
If instead of a group, you spot someone else alone, introduce yourself. Chances are they’ll be as grateful as you to be engaged in conversation with someone.
How to introduce yourself?
Who cares? Seriously. Even though I am all about having a great elevator pitch, because you’re not trying to pitch your business at hello, there really is no rule on how to make contact with another person.
Now, in my personal opinion, the whole ‘what do you do?’ is wrong, not because it doesn’t work, but because the conversation it leads to is likely to be really stale and stiff (see Step #4). So, here’s a couple of suggested alternatives.
“You look like you’ve been here before, what should I know?”
Another one is to check twitter about an hour before for some interesting piece of news and then use that with:
Hi. Did you hear that …(the news)?
And if you come to the point where you do want to ask about them, instead of “what do you do?” try “So, what are you working on right now?”
But really, who cares. Just jump in and introduce yourself!
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Step #4: Don’t tell them what you do
One of the core principles of charisma is: to be interesting, be interested.
It basically means the more you focus on others rather than yourself, the more they will be interested in you.
Add that to the old business adage that ‘people do business with people they know, like, and trust’ and it leaves little doubt that the worst thing you can do when networking to build your network and reputation is, talk on and on about yourself.
So, be interested in others. Ask what their interests, their passions, their successes and challenges, their hopes.
Be helpful. Actively think, how can I help him/her? Who can I connect him/her with?
You get, by giving generously of yourself to others, trusting in the universal law of karma to reward you for doing so.
Of course, if you are asked about yourself, you can and should be open.
But…don’t then just tell them about what you do. That’s really not that interesting.
Tell them about the people you serve through your work or business. Wax lyrical about the problems you solve. Show them how passionate you are passionate about what you do.
Step #5: Don’t use business cards
I have a desk drawer full of business cards.
I call it the black hole.
No one keeps business cards; or if they do, they shove them where the sun don’t shine (in a drawer, I mean). So, when you give them out, it’s more in hope than in a realistic prospect that they will actually keep it somewhere useful.
So, ditch the business cards. Instead, choose your social media platform, pull out your smart phone and make an immediate connection there and then.
It’s so much more effective:
- no one has to carry or receive stacks of business cards
- it’s different
- you get to see who they are connected to, which is the true purpose of networking
- you can maintain the relationship easily with likes, shares and comments
If you really are a die-hard and insist on giving out your business cards, make it original.
Use a picture so people dont have to struggle to remember whose card it was.
Here’s mine for instance:
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Step #5: Follow the rule of sperm
Back in 1998 I was pretty depressed.
Try as I did, I couldn’t get a training pupillage in a barristers chambers. I couldn’t even get an interview for one. It’s pretty soul-destroying to feel shut out of the opportunity to do something you know you were born to do. Then I met a senior lawyer at a legal debate, who comforting me with this simple truth:
“Pupillage is like sperm. It only takes one!”
His succinct point was that it really didn’t matter how many times I got rejected, I had to persist because I only needed to succeed once!
The mistake many novice networkers make when learning how to network effectively at an event, for instance, is to assume that they need to meet everybody.
Free yourself of that ridiculous pressure and focus on making one great connection. That’s it! Just one.
One fantastic connection per networking event is an excellent return and will soon lead to you building an insanely powerful network.
Of course, you can and should meet and mingle with many people. Just don’t be obsessed with connecting with all of them.
Remember, the best connections are organic and random.
Larry Page met Sergey Brin when Brin acted as his tour guide at a university visit. Don’t know who Page and Brin are? Google it! (I’m here all week!!!)
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Step #6: Just Say No
When you were two years old, you discovered the power of ‘No”
We held onto it through our teens.
Then somewhere in our 20s we kind of lost the skill and soon we forgot it even existed.
Successful networking is as much about saying no, as it is about working your way to the yes.
Follow your gut. Don’t say yes to “a coffee to explore possible synergies” (I so hate that word) if, deep down, you know that it’ll just be a waste of both your times.
You are doing both of you a disservice, and cheapening your own time.
Be polite and generous, but be focused. You are trying to expand your network, not diminish it.
Just say “No”!
Step #7: Become a stalker
No, not you, crazy guy in the rumpled trench coat. You’re just weird.
For everyone else, keep in mind that the fizz is in the follow-up.
Don’t expect the deal to be done at the first meeting because that’s not how to network effectively. You wouldn’t expect a marriage proposal after the first date.
Avoid letting them take your contact details without you getting theirs.
Don’t let that connection grow cold with time, because it will.
Follow up. Follow up quickly. Don’t worry about being over-cool and waiting a long time as though you were too busy. Either the connection was there or it wasn’t.
Meet up, call, text, email, message, like, share, @ them, tag them or ‘accidentally’ bump into them whilst out shopping.
How you do it, depends on the connection you made and the next logical step for the relationship you want to build.
This is basically legalised stalking by consent (as long as you’re not doing it in a creepy gown and mask).
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Finally, what’s your favourite tip on how to network?
Do you have a great tip to add to this list? Share it in the comments below. I respond to every comment! (LOOKS LIKE THERE’S A GLITCH IN THE MATRIX. IF THE COMMENTS BOX DOESN’T SHOW BELOW, JUST REFRESH YOUR BROWSER THEN YOU SHOULD BE ABLE TO PASTE YOUR COMMENT