“The richest people in the world look for and build networks, everyone else looks for work.” – Robert Kiyosaki.
Building and maintaining a network is a part and parcel part of most entrepreneurial working lifestyles, particularly for those growing a new business. Love it or hate it, getting out there and investing time in networking events is a must (unless you’ve cracked it and found the magic formula for bringing new business to your door or have access to Richard Branson’s roller deck). If approached with the right frame of mind, a little preparation and realistic expectations can prove valuable (minus the dent in your personal time).
Spotting the time-wasters is one of the first skills to hone. Identifying the following types (often found outside of professional networking scenarios also by the way) is a useful step towards making the most out of networking time.
Think back to when you’ve found yourself cornered by someone incredibly talented in the talking-at-you department. Desperate to get away from them you’re hemmed in, subjected to this “but that’s enough about me, let’s talk more about me” person, who (and credit where credit’s due, this is a talent) in five minutes has delivered their sales pitch, given you the run down on the highlights of their unbelievable career along with a sizeable chunk of their own life story (you may even know what car they drive and the value of property in the area they’ve just bought in). Hold that thought, take a deep breath, and let it be a motivation to manoeuvre yourself out of this one-way conversation and into a more promising one.
Now, remember the red-nosed boozer (likely to be dressed in a slightly worn pin-striped City suit) who within 15 minutes of the event kick-off has deftly sunk two glasses of red and has strategically befriended the waiters and waitresses asking them to swing the next batch of free booze and canapés their way. They’re there for the jolly fact. They’re likely to possess some decent/standard work patter, until they start slurring. But unlikely to prove a useful contact in the long run as their sole reason for being there is to top up the night before, and enjoy a free bevvy.
We’ve all heard The Voice. The one that immediately commands attention from across a busy room and is usually attached to a body donning at least one loud item of clothing (e.g. a fuchsia pink, leopard print pashmina, garish stripy socks, perhaps an extravagant hair-do, or a “statement” chequered jacket). Networking delegates (unbeknownst to them) become their audience and the event floor is the stage they crave. These attention-seeking, extrovert individuals should perhaps have gone to drama school to let the latent Thespian in them out (maybe they did and it didn’t quite work out). Though generally harmless, possibly even entertaining, chances are once you’re passed the hot air and storytelling, little professional substance or value will be left. They’re there for themselves, not really to engage with others.
At a very different end of the scale sits the fresh-out-of-university, self-acclaimed “Entrepreneur”, who is brilliant at talking in text book speak, and extremely accomplished in ‘bigging-up’ a career they’ve yet to embark on. If you can spare the time, such conversations can put a smile on your face (oh to be so young again). The confidence with which they speak is unlikely to be backed up with substance as they’re still wet behind the ears.
There are many more time-wasting types but the point is there’s a knack to identifying, then navigating your way around such people at networking events. A few simple tactics can be applied to help you spot the people you do and don’t want to encounter and then maximise your time with them:
Go with a purpose: If you have access to one, work through the delegate list beforehand, know who’ll be there then pinpoint those you think sound interesting. Do your online research (thank you LinkedIn) and decide who you want face-time with (though success may rest on either people wearing name badges or you being able to recognise them from their online headshot).
Be open-minded (and relax a little): With the explosion of online meetups in the past few years, finding networking events worth your time has never been more challenging (just as “there’s an app for that”, “there’s a meetup for that” too). In some industries this accessibility makes it even more difficult to ascertain what type of person you’ll meet (delegate lists are not always available unfortunately) which is why, for peace of mind, going along with an open mind and relaxed attitude really helps.
Be curious: You’re there to find common interests, a common ground more so than you’re there to pitch. Going armed with healthy curiosity will help you seek that out.
Be selfish: Your time is precious, so why let someone else waste it? All the more so as networking events are often outside of working hours (i.e. on your priceless free time) so why allow yourself to be monopolised by someone who might simply be a waste of time?
Stay alert: Scout the room before committing yourself to a spot. Try to spot some of the characters you may prefer to avoid (often exposed by the bored, pained expressions on the face of the person they’re talking to), and locate those you’d like to meet and make your beeline. Hang around too long and you risk missing your opportunity… make your move.
Be polite: Have your polite excuses ready should you find yourself getting caught up in a conversation with someone outside of your Want-To-Meet list. It’s not rude, just professional.
Be accompanied: Many of us endure rather than enjoy such affairs. If, like me, you have a trusty business partner or willing colleague, bring them along. Agree on a discrete signal you can each use to set in motion an escape route if needed. (Take care though, you’re there to meet new people not chat to one another.)
The good news is that once you get passed these time-wasters and master your own networking techniques you’ve massively increased your chances of finding like-minded people. Interesting and interested people you do want to spend time talking to. And with a bit of luck some of them you’ll go on to do business with.
Featured image by Sean McCausland