Avoid Networking “Flu”

5 Truths That Every Networking Event Newbie Needs to Know – Follow These Tips and Avoid “Networking Flu”.

From : Network After Work

Don’t be stuck in a corner, with “network flu” Get out there and with these tips, vaccinate yourself so you spread like a “good virus”. ~ Mary

There is no shortage of networking events to check out.  In cities across the country and the globe, business owners and career-minded professionals regularly gather to network in various formats and types of venues from bars to boardrooms.  Network After Work alone hosts 50 events across the country each month.  So if you have a professional or business goal you are trying to meet, odds are you will find yourself attending a network event sooner or later.  Even the most hasty search on Google about networking events will reveal the usual lineup of advice (bring business cards, dress nicely, follow-up) that you probably could have figured out for yourself.  That’s all well and good, but if you really want to hit your first networking event running, let these five essential truths about networking events swirl around inside your noodle for awhile.

Everyone Matters – You walk into your first networking event and experience a room full of people mingling about and interacting.  You see an attractive person hastily sipping a drink between encounters dressed in sharp business attire that clearly broadcasts ‘successful’ to anyone looking (and everyone is).  You are close enough to be next one to speak to this person before someone else jumps in for a turn.  Then you notice off to the side another attendee standing alone against the wall, dressed slightly awkwardly, and looking about for someone to talk to.  Who do you approach?   It’s a natural tendency to be drawn towards the first choice.  We want success, so we seek out what we perceive to be successful people.  However, networking events are only partially about who you get to know.  It’s also about who those people know and are willing to connect you with.  Let’s say, for example, you are an interior decorator looking for leads for a quick boost in business.  The odds of you getting face time at your first networking event with someone who just happens to be thinking about gutting their kitchen next month is pretty low.   Your next best bet is to spread the word in case that the people you meet happen to know somebody who can use your services in the near future.  The confident attendee and the awkward wallflower are both equally likely to know someone like that.   The shy one may actually be more willing to help out since they will have less people to follow up with after the event.  Basically, don’t waste your time trying to profile people at networking events.

Time Flies – Network After Work events run 3 hours.  Networking events held by other organizations can run longer or shorter.  It may seem like ample enough time to “work the room” but the most likely outcome is that you will talk to far less people than you thought you would.  This is not necessarily a bad thing.  If you roll in with a plan to meet at least a certain number of people by allocating a maximum number of minutes you can spend with each one, then you are missing out.  One solid networking relationship or referral from the right person can be a game-changer for your business or career.  If you end up spending the entire event talking to that one person then you can call that a victory.  Walking out with a stack of leads may also be of extreme value for your ground game to give your network a kick start.  You have to be fluid and let networking encounters run their natural length, whatever that turns out to be.  Having said that, it doesn’t hurt to have a great closing line that helps wrap up a conversation which has run its course.

Memory Fades – In your conversations with other attendees at networking events, you will often hear little tidbits that you make a mental note of.  Three hours later you have met half a dozen or so more people that you did the same thing for, and your mental notepad is a blurred mess.  Which one had a sister that went to the same college as you?  Who mentioned that their friend was starting a business that could use your help and what was that business again? It’s easy to get a little overwhelmed and lose track at your first event.  So have a strategy for dealing with that.  Some people like to keep a pen in their pocket to jot notes down directly on business cards between encounters.  Others take a moment and make notes on their phone.  Some revisit their notes and get them in order before leaving the parking lot while others religiously get them organized right when they get home.  Whatever it is, come up with a system that works for you then stick with it.

Your Pitch Needs More Work – The first interaction between attendees at networking events generally starts with an introduction to each by name followed by the inevitable “What do you do?” query.  That’s your cue to, as succinctly yet briefly as possible, lay out who you are.  You’ve got 1-3 crisp sentences to make your initial case.  Do whatever you need to do to get this pitch in shape.  Write it down.  Edit it. Memorize it.  Practice in front of the mirror.  Try it on your friends.  Then go ahead and throw it all away about three minutes after you step into your first networking event.  As with so many things, what works in the lab doesn’t play out the same way in the wild.  Your first networking event, and pretty much every one after that, is a sandbox you use to revise and hone how you initially present yourself and summarize your value proposition.  In some cases you will discover it is best to be very general until you get a better handle on who you are talking to.  In other cases, you may have something very clear cut to offer that needs no mincing about.  After a few rounds in the room, you may discover that something you offer that you didn’t realize was of value is very much in demand.  The resulting feedback could result in a complete pivot for your business or career in an unexpected but welcome direction.

Goals Are Obstacles – In researching how to plan and prepare for networking events, you will likely come across a recurring advisement to have a clearly defined goal to work towards.  That seems to make sense on a basic level, so it keeps getting parroted over and over in the media.  However, anyone who runs the business networking circuit knows that being too goal-oriented turns you into a networking robot sucking up and distributing business cards in an endless grind.  OK, that’s perhaps a little too dark of a characterization, but the truth is that you are more engaging when you are relaxed and being yourself.  Most networking events, certainly those hosted by Network After Work, have a social component.  So do not forget to socialize.  You will build your network with quality people by being someone that other people want to refer, vouch for, or otherwise go to bat for. When you keep that in mind, you start to have even more fun at networking events.

The thread that strings together the ‘truths’ laid out in this article is flexibility and fluidity.  These are key to networking event success, measured both in the value of your network and how much you enjoy the process.  So take a deep breath, keep those business cards handy, and dive on in.

Mingle more often, and you will stay safe from the “network flu”.

Mary T. O'Sullivan

Mary T. O’Sullivan, Master of Science, Organizational Leadership, Member, International Coaching Federation, Society of Human Resource Management. Candidate, Master’s Certificate in Executive and Professional Career Coaching, University of Texas at Dallas. Member Beta Gamma Sigma, the International Honor Society. Advanced Studies in Education from Montclair University, SUNY Oswego and Syracuse University. Mary is also a certified Six Sigma Specialist, Contract Specialist, IPT Leader and holds a Certificate in Essentials of Human Resource Management from SHRM. Mary O’Sullivan has over 30 years experience in the aerospace and defense industry. In each of her roles, she acted as a change agent, moving teams and individuals from status quo to new ways of thinking, through offering solutions focused on changing behaviors and fostering growth. In additional, Mary holds a permanent teaching certificate in the State of New York for secondary education, and taught high school English for 10 years in the Syracuse, NY area.

Leave a Reply