Networking has its challenges, the biggest of which is probably you. It's okay, personally I feel the same way about networking meetings as I do about my twice annual visits to the dentist (sorry Dr. Ben, you know I love you) -- I know I need to go, but it still makes me nervous, even though I've been many times. And I still sit in my car and feign an excuse to go home. I think the biggest hesitation I have when it comes to networking is my low expectations of what will happen, is this a waste of time, and what is it exactly that I am supposed to be doing? And how much will this hurt? A few thoughts about our expectations, actions and solutions when it comes to networking:
We expect too much from networking. Networking meetings are not a time to try and close deals. Depending on the event, it may not be possible to schedule appointments either. But, it is a great time to start building new contacts and new relationships. Take the pressure off yourself, if you walk out of a networking meeting with one solid new contact, you are winning.
Talk too much. Want to blow it completely, just keep talking. Was your goal to make a new contact or was your goal to puke product? Listen more, talk less. You already know everything you need to know about yourself, give your tongue a break and put your ears to work, you will be glad you did.
Talk to too many. This is not the time to collect a stack of cards, pass out a bunch of cards, rush back to your office and send out a bunch of sell sheets. Find a friendly face in the crowd or pre-plan a meet-up with a networking insider that knows the crowd. The organizers of the meeting probably know many in attendance. Ask them to introduce you to a few of the attendees that potentially would be of interest to you. Do your homework if you want to make the meeting time a good investment of your time.
No follow up. Here's where most people drop the ball. Do yourself a favor, if you plan on skipping the follow up step, don't go to a networking meeting at all. The magic is in the follow up. Handwritten notes work like magic, are rarely sent and will set you apart from others met at the event. As a bonus, mention a few pieces of personal info that you remember from your encounter. I promise they will be impressed.
Elevator speeches don't work. This might be against the grain, but I hate elevator speeches. Here's my philosophy, I know what I do and probably can describe it in a sentence or two, maybe even a word or two. The pressure of remembering an elevator speech or canned monologue of my body of work seems so nonsensical, forced and static. Plus, I like living an unscripted life. Have I lost a gig or two as a result? Maybe, but I've gotten a gig or two being unscripted as well. And I have nothing to remember. (See "Talk too much" above).
What are your challenges when it comes to networking? I'd love to hear from you.