I’m probably the last person you’d want to listen to when it comes to networking. I don’t feel comfortable doing it, even though it’s an essential part of business and personal development.
Why do I feel so “odd” when I network?
It’s not “natural” to me. Different people from different backgrounds, who otherwise wouldn’t be hanging out, get together in a room, make small talk, discover things they have in common all for the sake of progressing their business agenda. That’s oversimplified, but that’s how I feel about it all. I’ve done BNI networking groups; I’ve done Chambers of Commerce. I get “sold” on right away. Meaning, people like to tell me all about themselves, ask me about what I do and how what they do applies to my business. Being Digital Creative Agency, even a smaller one, you can imagine that A LOT of businesses can do something for me. That’s great, I’m happy about that. The hard sell bothers me, is all. Since I don’t like it, I don’t do it.
I kinda suck at networking, so I shouldn’t really be talking smack about others who “I think” are doing it wrong.
I’m a bit of a goofball; I’m not shy and, frankly, I’ve been known to make people laugh. What I’m good at is disarming a room with some well-timed jokes and wit. Jokes and small-talk, with a smattering of self-deprecation, is my “calling card.” It’s worked well for me over the years. I network by talking to folks, making them laugh and finding out what they like. It doesn’t generate business, but someone thinks I’m likable at least. I’ll take that.
How Not to Network
Now, while I don’t know the ins and outs of networking and doing it right I know what doesn’t work. How about that?
Don’t seek someone out because of who they’re connected to, to further your own agenda. People easily see through that sort of bullshit really quick. They’ll nod and smile… maybe and disregard your attempts at “networking” and “making a connection” and they’ll likely get red-faced when they find out you attempted to use your “new connection” to connect with an influencer you both know.
Don’t seek someone out who is an influencer and then talk their ear off about your “cool thing” that you’re doing. By going into your pitch right away, you’ve basically devalued your conversation to one little morsel and that’s the thing you’re trying to sell. I don’t know about you all, but if I wanted that type of treatment, I’d go buy a car!
Treat people like people; don’t “pitch them” right away. Give it time, man! Make a genuine connection; make a freaking friend! We all know how to do that, right? Crazy things happen when you’re a genuine person that actually cares about others. It turns out that those folks you care about, care about you, too. It’s a crazy idea, I know.
Lastly, leading off your conversation with “I’m kind of a whiz at…” or “I’m a guru at this…” You get the point, right? I know this is cliche, but if you have to tell someone how much of a bad-ass you are at something; how you’re a guru at xyz then are you really? Are you telling the other person, or just padding your ego?
Oh and don’t, don’t, don’t “validate who your connections.” If you have to do that, then you’re doing it wrong. Plain and simple.
How I Think One Ought to Network
Be yourself, if you do nothing else just please, please be yourself! Even if yourself is a dick, at least people will know what they’re getting and accept that you’re kind of a dick. People respect that a lot more than someone trying to bilk them for a Rolodex of influencers. Just be yourself.
Ask people about their life, what they’re working on and LISTEN! At WordCamp LA, I truly heard tell of some amazing stories. One guy, Kevin Michael Gray, has such a story and I’m going to dig deeper and find out more. But he reached out to me and said: “I’d like to grab a beer and find out more about what you do.” See what he did there? He wants to know about what I do. Of course, I’m going to ask what he does and what he’s got going on as well, because not only is it polite, but because the guy is pretty cool, I naturally WANT to know more about him.
Don’t be a dweeb. Now, I’m not going to say I’m an authority on this topic. I’m a bit of a dweeb, but my mom says I’m cool and there are folks who agree. That said, being a dweeb, to me, means that one has a need to “prove” their competencies to people; they need to build themselves up and talk about their “neat-o project.”
Some of the brightest people I know are the opposite; they’re humble and they don’t have a need to talk about how awesome they are because they just ARE that way. There’s a lot of people I look up to that fit that mold and they’re from all walks of life, doing all sorts of things. They community build; they run multi-million dollar companies; they build things that people use; they teach the leaders of tomorrow; they excel at life in more than a few ways. You know what? They don’t need to tell anyone about it.
Give more than you take and try really, really hard at that. The world has a funny way of paying you back for all the things you give. It’s a crazy notion that has humbled and amazed me on more than one occasion.
If you’re a dweeb, you can turn it around. Just be yourself, give and listen…