Networking is a lot simpler than people make it out to be.
We read all these articles with titles like ‘tips and tricks for better networking’, or ’10 ways to improve your network’, and all of them say the same exact thing, giving the same exact tips. The basic truth is that networking is just about having conversations. The hardest part of doing it is just to start. One of the best places to practice is at trade shows.
Don’t worry about being perfect. Just think about the major points of what you’re trying to tell people. You’re already an expert, but it can feel as though everyone else is so much better at this than you are. As you talk to more and more people, you’ll find yourself developing a script in your head that you can say smoothly and easily. It’ll become like second nature, and the more you do it, the easier it will become.
To some, networking can seem like this big scary process that only the most eloquent of professionals can pull off without sounding like an idiot. Before it’s time to speak to people we all have the same thoughts:
- ‘Everyone else is so much better than me!’
- ‘What if they think I’m a fraud?’
- ‘What if I fumble and sound like I have no idea what I’m speaking about?’
- ‘What if someone asks me a question that I can’t answer?’
- ‘I’m supposed to be the expert here, what if someone knows more than me?’
- ‘What if people don’t think I’m genuine, and that I’m just here to use them to get what I want?’
Just start. Just talk to people. If for example you have a booth at a trade show, then as people pass by, just say ‘hi, how are you?’ That’s usually enough to get any conversation started. In settings like trade shows, everyone knows that they’re there for networking. You don’t have to worry about coming across as fake, everyone is there with the purpose of meeting people and making new connections.
With that being said, here are some tips on how to make the most of your conversations
1. Encourage Questions
Nobody likes someone who talks over their head. Learning about the history of a company you’re not even interested in is not going to benefit you, so you’re not going to listen to what the person has to say. Likewise, you should find out what the person needs to know before you delve into your speech about what sparked your company and all the great ideas you’ve had thus far. Answering questions is a platform for you to showcase your stuff; it’s a way for you to immediately give value to whoever you’re speaking with. There are times when you’re not going to know the answer, and that is perfectly okay. People don’t expect you to know everything. What they expect however, is for you to be honest about it, and to show that you have the resources with which to find the information. If you don’t have an answer right away, it’s a great opportunity for you to then find the answer and follow up with the client. Right there you have a potential follow up phone call or meeting, and you have a better chance to prepare for exactly what the client wants. See? Everything presents an opportunity, you just have to know how to look.
We just spoke about questions, but we can’t emphasise enough the importance of listening. Listen. Don’t just wait for your turn to speak. Everyone hates that. When you listen well, you show that you value the other person’s concerns, and you’re able to adapt to different situations, because you are receptive. Networking is not all about talking. The more valuable part of networking is the opportunity to listen, as this gives you knowledge that you didn’t previously have. Is someone fretting about a problem? Are they any other people complaining about the same problem? Solving that problem may be a whole new business idea in itself that you didn’t previously think of. Listen.
3. Provide value
We’ve said this before and we’ll say it again. Provide value to the other person. Relationships are always one sided. Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that any relationship is 50/50. There’s always going to be an imbalance, and the imbalance that works in your favour is when you give more than you take. This is of course within reason. You do have a business to run after all. However, for people to really value you, and value your opinion, you have to give them relevant, immediate solutions to the problems they’re facing. Nobody is saying that you have to cure their diseases and take care of their family for the rest of their days, but if you can show someone how to operate a phone that they have no idea how operate, they’re going to value that. Small wins are the name of the game. Small wins are a opening to bigger opportunities and bigger wins, but you start the avalanche by tapping gently.
4. Body Language
If someone tells you no but nods their head yes, which one are you going to believe? Body language is a powerful asset in your networking, and you should spend some time in the mirror looking at the way you move. If you have a friend who’s willing, then have a conversation with them and record it. Look at the way you move your hands, the way you stand, how far apart you keep your legs and the direction of your eyes and head as you speak.
Keeping your feet shoulder width apart grounds your properly and keeps you steady. It also helps with your circulation, allowing you more blood and oxygen around your body. Standing straight and tall gives off the impression of confidence, while slouching and bad posture give off the impression of insecurity.
Keep your hands symmetrical as you gesture. Waving one hand around above your head while you have the other drooped at your side will make you look like you’re not in control of what you’re saying and expressing. Keep your hands at the level of your stomach, and have them work in tandem; gracefully and in cohesion with what you’re saying. You want your hands to enhance what you have to say, not distract from it.
Try to maintain steady eye contact for a few seconds at a time. A lot of people say to look into people’s eyes without breaking contact, and that will make you seem firm. In a less than intense situation however, it’s just down right creepy. Especially when you do it to someone of the opposite sex. If you are constantly twitching and looking around and cannot make eye contact at all however, that’s something else. It makes you look shy and insecure.
Body language makes up for 90% of what we say. The remaining 10% is then divided among what we say and more importantly how we say it. If you want to network properly, watch your language.
Anyone who tells you that you’re shallow for worrying about the way you look, has never had to close a major deal. Whether you like it or not, people judge you on the way you look, the way you sound, the way you smell, and the company you keep. You can surprise people by looking like a vagrant but speaking about philosophy, but the point remains, they are surprised by it. On the flip side, you can look like a high level executive wearing an Italian suit and driving a German car, and still sound like you have no idea what you’re talking about. Also surprising.
People often think of image and think that a proper image means wearing expensive clothes and looking sophisticated. That isn’t necessarily the case. Your image should reflect what your goals are as an individual. If you’re a fire man, don’t you need to be wearing protective gear? If you’re an athlete, aren’t you supposed to be wearing whatever makes you perform better? The goal with your image is relevancy. You need people to expect just enough from you that they won’t turn away or laugh even before you begin to speak. You need just enough difference to make people remember you, and just enough class for them to respect you.
Study your crowd. Determine what is relevant, and what is unexpected, and find a balance between the two that suits you. Stay away from inappropriate or crass, unless it aligns with your goals.
So there you have it. What are you waiting for? Go out there and do your thing!