So, you have been to a couple of business conferences chock full of people you should have no problem conducting business with. At the very least, you should have walked away with a few good contacts who will have no problem giving you some advice or feedback if you run into a business problem or are in need of an introduction. So, why hasn't your network grown and why are you no better off than you were before the conference? Because you are a terrible networker.
Networking is a skill, and you need to work on it in order to improve your game. That includes identifying habits that sabotage your efforts and replacing them with new and more productive habits.
If you have been to several business events, you've probably seen people who fit into the categories below. You may have fallen into some of these traps yourself. Take a few minutes and make your next event worth it -- if not for you, then for everyone else.
The Wallflower is easy to pick out at any event. Usually they hold a drink and stand at the perimeter of the event space during the networking events. This is typically the shy person who doesn't know many people at the event. What will make or break this person is how much intestinal fortitude they can muster based on their desire to succeed. Generally, I've found that the Wallflower falls into two types: shy but personable or shy and very socially awkward. The shy but personable people are the ones who generally are the best to network with because they form stronger relationships. Shy and socially awkward people have their work cut out for them. Sometimes they are classified as the Soloist, which is the person who, instead of hanging out on the sidelines, haunts the fringe of everyone's conversations but doesn't engage.
Another variation of the Wallflower is the Pod, which is when people from the same company stick together like they are connected by an invisible force.
If you find yourself being a Wallflower, Soloist, or Pod, there is a cure.
First, get out of your comfort zone and start talking to people. I used to be painfully shy, and at my first business event I had to resist my desire to be a Wallflower. I had clear objectives at this event: to increase the number of positively performing advertising campaigns. I knew that I couldn't achieve that goal by standing by myself. As I was observing, I saw someone about 30 feet away who seemed like the center of attention. He constantly had people around him, and he was clearly enjoying himself while exchanging business cards and starting new business relationships.
That person was Sean Finnegan, who possesses natural charisma and is a talented networker. He demonstrated several key facts about business events.
- Networking events are fun, and you get the opportunity to meet interesting people.
- Everyone (yes -- that means you) has something to bring to the table that others will be interested in.
- Everyone is in the same boat as you, so muster up the moxie and start a conversation.
The Puffer (also known as the Windbag)
The Puffer is the opposite of the Wallflower in the fact that they have no problem inserting themselves into a conversation. These people are also easy to spot because they are talkative (and loud, with enough alcohol) but lack substance. In order to make up for substance, they compensate by casting themselves as much more important or talented than they actually are. These people aren't focused on building relationships, but on raising their own stature in the short term.
A variation of the Puffer is the Name Dropper, who starts every conversation with the people that they know or are connected with. Sometimes this is irrelevant to the conversation, but most of the time the name is dropped in order to make the Name Dropper seem more important in everyone else's eyes.
Have you fallen into this trap? If so, it's time for a little tough love.
The key with any conversation is to remember that it's not all about you. Treat conferences and networking events like a speed date where you are genuinely interested in learning about the other person. The digital marketing industry is full of amazing individuals worth getting to know -- both on a business and personal level. We would all rather do business with someone who we like. Be a good listener, and take a genuine interest in people. As a byproduct, you will end up learning a ton of valuable things that aren't mentioned on stage.
The Name Tag
Next time you're at an event, look at the angle of people's heads. While most people look level (unless, of course, you are taller than 6'4 or shorter than 5'2), the Name Tag's head is angled down, reading everyone's badge to determine who is "worth" their time. The Name Tag has trouble with eye contact because, even in the midst of conversation, they are looking at all of the name tags of the people walking by to quickly ascertain if another person will help them fulfill their short-term business objectives.
The primary purpose of going to a conference is to ultimately generate more business, but that doesn't mean you can stop paying attention to your surroundings. Quite the contrary, you need to have a heightened sense of observation. Engage in genuine conversations with everyone that you come across. If you are genuine, business will naturally follow. Sometimes this will be one-on-one and other times it will be part of a group. Observe who is leaving and coming into group conversations, but be mindful to not alienate those who don't serve your immediate business interests. Finally, learn how to exit a conversation gracefully, which is an art that will set you apart from even the most comfortable and talented networkers. Always look people in the eyes, thank them for the conversation, leave by stating any follow up that was discussed, and smile. Keep in mind that nobody expects you to hang out with them all night.
The Business Card Collector
If you had what you thought was a good conversation with someone at an event, exchanged business cards, but then never heard from that person again, you probably met the Business Card Collector. This person looks good to their boss immediately after an event because they have physical proof of their networking prowess. However, they typically lack the discipline to follow up and develop relationships that result in business.
This is an easy trap to fall into. It isn't too difficult to come back from a conference with 20 to 30 business cards from people you had a conversation with. It can easily become overwhelming if you have not developed your post-event follow-up process.
When I come back from a conference, I take all of the business cards and create three piles. The first pile is for the people where I don't see any current or near-term business, but could down the road. The second pile is for people where no business exists between my company and their current company (keep in mind that everyone jumps to a different company from time to time). Finally, the third pile is for the people where there is a current business opportunity. I send everyone, regardless of which pile, a LinkedIn invitation and personalize each invite.
Follow up everyone you met with via LinkedIn or email. Try to recall at least one conversation topic to get the conversation going, and let them know if you see a current business fit. For those with whom a current business opportunity exists, you should try to reach out within three days after the event to continue to build the relationship.
Remember that networking doesn't end when the event ends. Even if there isn't a direct business fit, keep in touch with as many people as possible and seek them out at future events -- even if it to just say "Hi." Maintaining these relationships could lead to future business or, as in my case, open the conversations that lead to a current job.
Have you ever had a brief conversation with someone at a conference who calls you later and expects a large insertion order simply because you had a drink together? Congratulations, you've met Mr. Entitlement.
Having a good conversation at an event or even discussing business possibilities doesn't entitle you to an insertion order. Business conversations at events usually just scratch the surface. For example, when I was on the media buying side, someone I had met more than a year earlier contacted one of the people on my team and explained that he should have "friend" pricing (whatever that means) and preferential terms because he and I spent some time together at a conference. In reality, he was overstating the extent of a conversation that lasted no more than 10 minutes. Regardless, nothing entitles you to any amount of business. Everyone (even Mr. Entitlement) should be evaluating any type of business relationship based on the merits and expected performance.
Have you ever been Mr. Entitlement? Having confidence is one thing, but conveying entitlement based on a superficial conversation is something else. Approach every new conversation as a prospecting conversation. Most conversations that happen at a conference are simply launch pads for a more in-depth discussion. Take the time to nurture the relationship, and put your best foot forward.
I've also seen Mr. Entitlement turn quickly into Mr. Disgruntled. Remember that receiving a "no" doesn't necessarily mean "never" -- instead, it may mean "not now." Insulting your prospect or going over their heads will not win business. Instead, you risk permanently closing the door for you and your company.
What is your networking persona?
Before your next business event, think about your short-term and long-term objectives. Then consider what persona will help you achieve them.
The formula is simple:
- Have clear objectives
- Be genuine in all of your conversations
- Create and maintain a follow up system
- Keep in touch with the people you meet
Have you run across other personas that make someone a terrible networker? Share your story below.
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