Look, I like instant gratification as much as the next person, but it just doesn't cut it when it comes to networking.
More than a few times, I've been chatting with a group of people at a party, when out of nowhere, a new person walks up and immediately hands everyone a business card. It's slightly jarring and a little bit funny because, well, we know nothing about each other and you're giving me all your contact details!
The business card napalm strike usually evokes a few polite, obligatory responses like, "This is a nice card" or "Oh, you're a business coach...." Then after everyone settles into a new conversation, the card ninja is off to the next group in a flash--without sticking around to really get to know anyone.
Would you be rushing to contact that guy? Probably not. Me? Well, let's just say I have stack of business cards in my purse and have NO recollection of the people who gave them to me; I'm often tempted to use them to discard my gum.
Let's be under no illusions: networking is tricky. But we all need to do it and we need to do it well--so I enlisted the help of the hostus with the mostus, Ben Hindman, to give us all a networking makeover.
Hindman knows a thing or two about working a room--being that he built an entire empire on helping corporations create engaging parties through his platform Splash and was most recently praised by the New York Post for throwing the hottest event at SXSW this year.
One of the many reasons people love his parties is that he and his team set people up to network with one another successfully. Here are some of his pearls of wisdom to test out at your next networking event:
Do your research.
If you're really going to an event to get business, research the speakers, hosts, and attendees before you even get there. That way when you approach people, you already know what topics they'll be most responsive to.
Knowledge is power, yes--but don't cross the line and get creepy, folks! You don't need to divulge that you researched a person or just how much you know about them. Keep it in your head, but let it guide your conversation.
If you have no one to talk to right away, it's easy to bury your head in your phone. Refrain!
Ben stresses the importance of being present and engaged. Don't avoid eye contact or be reading something. Instead, engage someone in conversation by using what's happening at the event. If someone gave a great speech--use that to open a new conversation with a fellow party-goer. When you don't know someone yet, a shared experience is always a safe bet as an icebreaker.
Don't hide behind your business card.
"I have a very important rule--I never bring business cards to an event," Ben explains. "I think of business cards as an opportunity to give someone something to throw away. If you really want to follow up with someone, capture their information, put it in your phone, ask for their phone number, their email and YOU follow up. To hand someone a business card is the equivalent of telling them to forget about you."
Oh no he didn't! Oh yes he DID say that. Sorry business card ninjas. Catch our full conversation here on The Unicorn in the Room:
Use your follow-up as a relationship deepener.
So you've made a strong connection at a party and you want to follow up. DO NOT use this first follow up as an opportunity to hock your product or service. You have not invested in them long enough, so the relationship isn't strong. Selling them at this point will just turn them off. Forever.
Ben notes: "Business relationships begin with friendship."
So what you need to do is really take the time to deepen that relationship.
Our networking guru suggests finding a reason to hang out in person. You met that person at an event, so you know they like events of that kind. Find one and ask them to go to it with you. That will help you continue to nurture and deepen that relationship.
Wait until you're solid.
When you feel like your relationship is on solid ground and that you've added value to that person, at that time--you can get straight to the point and chat about doing business with them. You'll find that even if it's a "no" at this time, it'll open up a dialogue for a later discussion or they might introduce you to someone that's an even better fit.
As I was listening to Ben's advice, I couldn't help but hear Diana Ross' famous lyrics in my head: "You can't hurry love, no you just have to wait!" Well, in the context of networking, you can take her lyrics replace "love" with "strong business contacts." Musically, it's not as catchy, but it's certainly true...there is no instant gratification in networking.
Use that song as your new networking anthem and remember the sentiment.