As an early-stage entrepreneur, networking is everything. It's your lifeline to success. You want people to know about your product and why it’ll take over the world someday because if they don't, well, there isn't much money to be made in product un-awareness.
Maybe, though, you’re up to your eyeballs with raising capital, product development, hiring talent and myriad other time consuming tasks and the thought of attending yet another networking event makes your stomach churn.
Don’t worry, you’re not alone. In fact, I'm one of them. I hate networking. What I dislike the most about networking is the term "networking" itself because it connotes self-promotion. While there are plenty people out there who believe their "stuff" doesn't stink or that they're doing a service for the world by blessing us with their presence, there are others who just genuinely enjoy meeting people -- no self-promotion required. (Note: “Stuff” stinks, and it stinks horribly. Don't be that person.)
As uncomfortable as networking can be, it's a necessary evil. However, there's a right way and wrong way to do it. If you want to build better relationships at your next networking event, make sure you avoid the following:
1. Placing “me” before “we.”
By taking the “what’s in it for me?” approach upon meeting new people you can’t help but come across as someone who only cares about yourself. Signs of people who exhibit social retardation are:
- Starting sentences with an “I” or “my”.
- Redirecting the conversation back to themselves.
- Not asking any questions about the other person.
If this is you, please see my article on social hand grenades. Remember, the immediate purpose behind networking is to discover synergy with others and (perhaps) broaden your social reach, not make a sale on the spot (but if you do I’d love to hear your secret).
2. Believing the event exists to serve you.
Everybody else attending a networking event is there with the same purpose: to build relationships that lead to sales. This doesn’t mean you should turn every conversation into a used car salesman-like pitch in hopes of breaking Steve Woodmore’s record of most words spoken per minute. Instead, use this to your advantage by inquiring about them as people, asking powerful questions, making them feel comfortable around you. The best way to build rapport is by inquiring about the one thing everybody enjoys talking about: themselves.
3. Spray and pray.
Making the rounds to fill your pockets with business cards as if they were dollar bills, while foregoing meaningful conversation, is an effort in futility. Here’s why. First, you’re passing up the opportunity to really connect with people and get to know them in person. In this day and age, never sacrifice the opportunity to make a first one-on-one impression.
Second, the metric for success is skewed. The number of business cards you receive pales in comparison to the impact of worthwhile conversation. Following up with them later via Twitter or LinkedIn is good, but only after personalizing the connection. Let's be real. How many followers or connections within your social media fan club do you really know? My guess is not many. Seize the opportunity when the opportunity presents itself. Don't hesitate.
If you want to move the needle on the social front, be present. Listen more than you talk. Start more sentences with “you” than with “I” and you’ll build not only worthwhile relationships, but a brand of "we" as opposed to a brand of "me."