If you avoid going to networking events even though you know they are good for your business, this article is for you.
Here’s a secret, I had a big problem as a self employed business owner who gets 100% of his new clients through word of mouth and referrals…I hated networking. I felt like a fraud; going to chamber of commerce mixers, rotary club meetings or other business networking events. The last thing I wanted to do was make small talk as I passed my business card out to a dozen people, hoping that they would hire me or send me business. It felt lame. I felt like a pushy salesman or worse yet, a politician. I wanted to barf after being asked “so, what do you do?” for the 20th time in 20 minutes.
Not my scene.
There were times when I would pull up at a mixer, sit in my car for five minutes building up the resolve to plaster on my smile and head inside, then say “screw it” and drive away shaking my head at what a waste of time this was.
But then, I made a small change that changed everything.
I realized that I was going about networking all wrong. I had the wrong objectives and the wrong mindset.
See, I used to think that my objective for a mixer was to meet everybody I could and pass out my cards. The problem is that I’m an introvert with a low threshold for meaningless small-talk, so meeting 30 people and having the same inane conversation over and over was torture.
Now my objective for any mixer, or any other event where I will meet a bunch of people is this; to have one deep conversation.
Now I enjoy going to those events, and I’ve built great business and personal relationships as a result.
Rather than take the shotgun approach of having shallow conversations with as many people as possible, I decided to speak with only a few people but go deep.
So, rather than meeting someone and saying “So, what business are you in?” with feigned interest, I introduce myself and ask questions like “What do you love about your job?” or “If you were invited to give a speech in front of an audience about any topic, what would your message be?”
See, instead of following the normal networking script and forcing my business card on disinterested people, I see who is willing to have an interesting conversation, and then I go deep. I get to know them better in 20 minutes than many of their peers know them. We talk about our mentors, our principals, our fears, and our aspirations.
I do my best to let them do most of the talking. If I am the one speaking more than 30% of the time, I lose.
I made another change. I never offer my card to anyone. If they ask for one, I will usually give it up. But I never push my card or myself on anybody.
I’ve noticed a few things since changing my approach:
- I have a lot more confidence at networking events. Because I’m not trying to sell myself, I can just be present and be interested in the other person.
- I have built more deep relationships than I’ve ever had before. Because the other person can tell that I am truly interested in them and not just waiting for my turn to talk, they like me and want to learn more about me too.
- Other people who are sick of the normal networking conversations seek me out. By acting different than everyone else, I attract other people looking for deeper conversations.
- I enjoy networking. Now that my goal is just to have one good conversation, I look forward to the next event. I know that I am going to meet someone interesting and make a new friend.
So, if you avoid networking events like the plague, maybe you’ve just got the wrong approach. Ditch the salesperson attitude asking for business from people you’ve just met. Have one good conversation instead, and see how it changes networking for you.
A quick note. I’ve found that when I don’t enjoy something, it’s usually because I have the wrong perspective or the wrong goals. I’ve learned that if I just change my mind about what I want to accomplish, I can have a good time doing just about anything.
For example, I spent last weekend at a guys golf weekend with about 20 gents (only 4 of which I knew). They played 52 holes of golf in two days. I hate golf, and I have a bad back which prohibits me from swinging a club. But guess what, I had a blast anyway. I made it my objective to be helpful and to serve the rest of the group. So I spent much of those two days making beer runs, going to pick up ice, food, and anything else the golfers needed. I had a good time just being helpful, the guys appreciated it, and I made some new friends. Win/win/win.
One more example of how changing your mindset changes everything.
I got two fillings at the dentist this morning. Now, I don’t mind the small, high frequency drill, but the slow, vibrating grinding drill makes my hair stand on end. I hate it. Before the dentist began drilling, I would challenge myself to meditate, clear my mind, and completely relax; instead of tensing up, clenching my fists and just surviving it like I want to do, I would make a game out of it. Could I embrace it instead of fighting it?
As he started grinding, I relaxed my whole body and pictured myself holding my newborn son this November. Something I’ve always dreaded at the dentist became a challenge that I was able to overcome by embracing it.
So, the next time you go to a networking event, change your objective, change your mindset, and you will change your experience and your results.