I was invited by one of my customers to attend a local networking event. Intrigued by what this networking group was all about, I agreed to take some time from the office and visit the group.
They say timing is everything. Nothing illustrated this more than when I entered a hall-full room of networkers, and a man met me at the door and pounced on me before I was able to take off my coat.
“You’re Bob, right?” he said. I nodded, wondering how he knew who I was. I guess my customer told people I’d be going to the event.
“I’m Jim. I heard you’re pretty good at LinkedIn. I was wondering if you could help me with my profile. I’m not getting many hits. I’ve been on LinkedIn for more than a year. Do you think you could help me write it?”
“I lead LinkedIn workshops at the Career Center of Lowell,” I told him. “You should come to the Center and attend my workshops. Then I can critique your profile.” I hoped this was the end of our conversation, as I hadn’t even grabbed a coffee, but no the man continued.
“Well, I don’t really have time to go to the career center (probably because it would disrupt his online job search). And I’m not sure it will serve my needs, being an urban career center.”
I felt like telling him that people exactly like him come to our career center. Instead I told him I’d forgotten my business cards (lie) but he could call our local number if he wanted to come in for my workshops. I knew he wouldn’t make the call.
This, folks, is what gives organized networking a bad name. Going to a networking event should not start on an unpleasant note from point of contact.To make networking a pleasant experience for others, practice the following:
- Approach potential connections slowly, yet confidently. Don’t spring upon a person like the fellow I mentioned above. I didn’t appreciate being bombarded before I was able to get settled. Instead casually approach the person with whom you’d like to meet and give a nod of recognition.
- Make eye-contact and smile before approaching. People can tell a lot about you from your causal eye-contact. Your eye contact says you’re approachable. And smiling shows warmth and acceptance. Those who don’t smile seem indifferent, which doesn’t encourage conversation.
- Extend your hand in a non-aggressive manner. This is a sign of welcome, and to me says you have solid character. That said, shake a person’s hand gracefully and don’t squeeze so hard that it hurts. No limp or wet-palm handshakes either–as my daughter would say, “Ewww.”
- Think small talk first. There’s no reason to immediately launch into your elevator speech. Ease into the conversation by using the methods listed above and wait for the right moment to explain what you do and talk about the value you bring to employers.
- Give the person your undivided attention. Later in the morning I was talking with someone who kept looking past me like she was expecting Prince Charming to come through the door. I realize I’m not Brad Pitt, but come on. If it ain’t happening, make an exit gracefully.
- Don’t offer your personal business card if you don’t mean business. It’s disingenuous and a waste of paper when you give your card to someone with whom you have nothing in common or feel no connection. I distrust people who give me their card as soon as we start talking. Don’t you want to know my name first?
- Understand cues that tell you your networking companion has had enough. Despite what you may think, not everyone is interested in hearing you talk excessively about your services, products, or unemployment woes. Watch for rolling eyes, shifting feet; hear when people say, “Mmm,” or “Yep” or “Right.” These are cues to move on.
- Have a polite exit plan. There will be times when you’ll be cornered by a talker who’s goal is to tell you about every aspect of his life. Politely disengage politely. Something like this might be effective: “It’s been great talking with you, but I’m here to meet with someone about her job search. It will help to have a safe zone, a person to retreat to.
- Catch the person on your way out. Do you ever leave a party without saying goodbye to the host? Of course not; that’s just plain rude. Make sure you afford your potential contacts the courtesy of letting them know you’re leaving. Otherwise, they’ll get that feeling of being blown off or continue to look for you during the rest of the event.
- Follow up. This goes without saying. Tell those with whom you have something in common that you’ll follow up your conversation the next day…and do it. When you follow up with your new connections, you show responsibility and respect. Further, you solidify the relationships.
On my way back to the office I stopped by the neighborhood Panera Bread, where I ran into one of my customer who’s trying to find a job. The meeting was easy and refreshing and reminded me of what networking is all about—great conversation with the subtlety of networking in the background, yet ever-present. The timing was just right.