Let’s get clear about something when it comes to networking. I tell this to my students all the time when they are getting ready to attend one of our major seminars or conferences. I tell them that I’d rather have them come back having made 3-4 good personal contacts rather than trying to see who can collect the most business cards at the conference. I hand out my card all the time and can barely remember most of the time who I give them too. Particularly if they never even spoke to me, beyond walking up and saying, ‘hey, can I get your business card?” Ferrazzi, in his book Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time, echoes these comments.
The networking jerk is the man or woman with the drink in one hand, business cards in the other and a pre rehearsed elevator pitch always at the ready (Ferrazzi 56). They dart around the conference, always trying to trade up to a bigger fish. Their talk is small and so are they. This is NOT your objective.
Your objective is to build relationships and here’s how you do that – you enter dangerous territory. While we’ve all been told to stay away from certain hot buttons, Ferrazzi says that shared interests are the basic building blocks of any relationship (Ferrazzi 100). Race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity or business, professional and personal interests are all relationship glue. You do need to demonstrate a little tact however. It’s probably not appropriate to walk right up to your new minority friend and ask him or her if they landed their job because of their color. However, it may be perfectly acceptable to ask their opinion on whether race still plays a significant factor in hiring and promotions within your industry. By getting personal, at the right time and at the right level, you can break through the conference small talk and get to the heart of a real relationship.
- Avoid the networking luncheons at most conferences, unless the speaker is awesome or you just can’t avoid it. If possible, set up your own lunch with a few key contacts you are looking to spend time with (Ferrazzi 118). Or, if you can’t afford the conference lunch or dinner, work to make sure that your key people are at your table: “hey, I’ll save us some seats.”
- Same advice with those huge networking events, like the golf tournament or museum tours that the trade shows set up – they are complete messes. Hundreds of people standing around, mostly with people they already know. It’s loud, it’s hard to move from group to group and the food usually sucks. Instead, set up your own mini event and invite a few key people – most will be happy to get out of the cattle call
- Breaks are where the real conference work takes place (Ferrazzi 124). Breaks are not the time to wander off to the bathroom, go check email or otherwise disengage yourself from the event – breaks are THE time to engage. Figure out where people gather and stake it out – leave the sessions early and take care of your bathroom and email requirements before the break starts. When you do go into a session, try to sit near the person you want to meet – sit to their right (you’re their right-hand-man now), and engage in casual conversation before the speakers begin – you can also engage in body language conversation during the speaker and I’ve even passed notes on something the speaker said to my new found friend – this can all help build the relationship
Ferrazzi also says to avoid these being people:
- The Wallflower – the limp handshake, standing away from the crowd and trying to turtle into the drywall (Ferrazzi 126)
- The Ankle Hugger – this is the person who makes one good contact, and then hangs onto them the entire time (Ferrazzi 126)
- The Celebrity Hound – this person funnels all their energy in trying to meet the most important person, but the problem is hat that person is usually on their guard – it may be better to meet someone who knows the celebrity, or the real decision maker who may be lurking off to the sides (Ferrazzi 126)
- The Smarmy Eye Darter – this is the person who quickly moves from person to person, shooting for quantity, not quality
- The Card Dispenser (addressed above)
Ferrazzi says to instead master the art of the ‘bump.’ In the bump, you strategically ‘bump’ into the person you’ve been wanting to meet and you’re prepared for your few moments of fame – at this point you employ something like: “Mr. So and So, my name is [insert your name here] and I work for (or am with, or own) . . . I thought I’d just make the introduction myself. I know you’re busy but I’m wondering if I can call your office and arrange a time to meet when you get back home…to discuss (your value and how you can help them).” Remember, in a good relationship, it’s not about you.
Ferrazzi, Keith, and Tahl Raz. Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time. New York: Currency Doubleday :, 2005. Print.