The N Word: How to network without being creepy
I’ve received a ton of questions lately about networking: how to do it effectively, how not to be the weirdo, how is it like dating, how to follow up, how not to waste your time with losers, what is different about networking with women vs. men, how to network online, networking mistakes amateurs make. So I'm doing a little series on the pitfalls of networking and how to rock at it.
Do you ever say to yourself, "I really hate networking," and then internally congratulate yourself on not being that guy at a cocktail party shoving your business card on people?
If you answered yes, then you probably make a lot less money than That Guy.
And your network is likely a lot smaller.
You might be invited to fewer parties and charity events.
And forget about getting your picture in the local glossy magazine's social features and party pics.
I want to tell you that you can network in a way that puts people and relationships first. But for some reason, networking remains a dirty word in the business world.
First of all, it conjures up pictures of a sweaty-palmed sales guy with big toothy smile who is just trying to meet as many people as possible and get their business cards so that he can spam them later with emails about his multi-level marketing/insurance/real estate schtick.*
Ok, so sweaty-palmed guy is coming your way at the party and you know he's gonna ask your name, which he'll promptly forget, and then he'll ask you what you do and "do you have a business card?" He'll barely glance at it before shoving it into the breast pocket of his sport coat and make one last cursory comment before he's on to the next person.
I've seen it time and time and time again.
At the World's Greatest Marketing Seminar** I attended at LAX (because you can't really call that LA!) I witnessed fascinating exchange between two attendees about networking because of one such sweaty-palmed MLMer.
Joe is a cool dude. He helps local/state level politicians polish their communication skills. He also writes screenplays. He had a failed vending machine business and managed to lose (and keep off) over 100 pounds. All by the age of 30. He's a Brooklyn born and bred Jewish Italian who is about 6'5.
And he started talking to this other dude, we'll call him Pete.
Pete is all of 120 pounds, Asian, and very sweet. They're vaguely chatting about business and why they're at the WGMS. Pete, incidentally, is in a fine jewelry MLM and he has been hitting up the ladies big time at this conference.
Early into his convo with Joe he says, "Do you have a business card?" Joe takes his card out, reaches out his hand to give it to Pete, and then pulls his hand back.
He asks, "What are you going to do with my business card?"
Pete doesn't respond. He screws up his mouth in thought and looks just about to say something when Joe adds, "Hey Pete, could I give you some coaching?"
And Pete, who is the eager beaver type, nods his head and says, "Yeah, yeah. I'd love some coaching."
Joe replies, "See, here's the thing. I really like my clients to be invested in their coaching, so I ask for some kind of payment. Would you be willing to pay me a dollar for fifteen minutes of coaching?"
I'm watching this unfold at our lunch table and fascinated.
And I'm really curious to see what Joe wants to coach Pete around.
Pete responds, somewhat hesitantly (you could tell he was shocked), "Sure...uh, ok." And he takes out his wallet to hand a $1 bill to Joe. Joe takes the dollar bill from Pete's outstretched hand quite slowly, contemplates it for a moment, thanks Pete, and puts it carefully into his wallet. Thus began their impromptu coaching session. What unfolded next was a brief but valuable lesson in networking. I'm calling it Joe's Rules of Networking in homage to that situation.
Joe's Rules of Networking
1. Master the greeting. Ooh boy. This is where that old Head & Shoulders commercial is plain wrong. It is always too late to make a first impression. Your greeting better be on point! How?
Have a good handshake. Dudes, this means don't crush a hand. Btw, handshakes are equal opportunity. Even when you're shaking a woman's hand, be somewhat firm. Women hate fishy handshakes as much as men.
Ladies, practice this! You, too, must have a firm handshake. Those wishy washy ones just don't cut it because then you get stuck in the icky feeling half-handshake where your hands don't fully clasp so you're forced to do the awkward "finger shake." I'm cringing just thinking about it.
Look your handshake partner in the eye when you shake hands. Now, I realize that this requires hand-eye coordination. You may look at the hand (think: target) as you go in for the shake, but once you make contact, pull your gaze to the other person's eyes. Smile. Say hello. Don't worry about names yet. That comes next.
P.S. I know many people actually turn their heads and look away (Yes, look away I say!) when they shake someone's hand. It is so uncomfortable and makes me feel weird/sorry for that person. Usually it's about that person's insecurity. Even if you classify yourself as insecure or shy, don't do the "look away" ever. It is a sin against humankind.
Exchange names in a meaningful way. This is the kicker. I frequently, somehow, space out when someone says his/her name to me. I think this happens for two reasons. 1. I'm too busy thinking about what I'll say or what they'll think about me or 2. I'm still looking around the room. Basically, I'm the opposite of present. A great practice to have is attending a party with the intention of being very present for each and every interaction you have, regardless of its duration. This will help with the name remembering thing.
You can also do those other tricks that help like immediately repeating that person's name, asking how they spell it, and then using the name in your conversation. All those will help ingrain a name in your memory. I worked briefly with a memory coach, Hector???, on remembering names of strangers that flashed across his computer screen. For each person I took a feature on his/her face and linked that in my mind to the person's name. It worked. My retention was pretty phenomenal.
Once you've mastered the greeting...it's all about what comes next.
2. Above all, establish an early connection. When I do sales team trainings, I make my roomful of sales reps get in groups of two and then three with other reps they don't know well. Then I give them 60 seconds during which they must find some common ground with the other person/people in their group. It's a challenge. And do what you can to make that connection personal vs. professional. Get a CEO mom talking about her kids and (provided you can relate) you have a much more memorable conversation than if you were talking P&L or current events or (gah) weather. Don't be afraid to get personal. Your business idol or ideal client is human too.
3. Avoid yes/no questions. This one may seem obvious, but it does bear repeating. Instead, ask HOW or WHAT questions. How did you like the presentation? How are you celebrating the upcoming holiday? What did you do for your recent vacation? What are you really excited about right now?
4. Be conscious of how you ask for the biz card. Here's my go-to: "I would love to connect with you about (insert concrete reason to connect and follow up that provides benefit to the other person); do you have a card?"
If you don't have a concrete reason to connect and follow up that provides benefit to them, then you can still ask for a card, but you need a different approach. Try, "I have so enjoyed our chat. I would love to connect on Linkedin. Do you have a card so I can find you?"
This is much less commitment and gives you an opportunity to connect in a different medium than a follow up email or phone call allows. In Japanese business culture, when someone hands you a business card, you take it with both hands, study it, turn it over and look at the back, and then put it in a safe place (e.g. not your pocket). I co-opted this approach because it makes the biz card giver feel valued, gives me yet another chance to look at his name, and builds in some time/space to let our connection simmer. I always put my business cards in the same place, too, so that I don't lose them and can go back and do my follow ups.
5. Have a kick ass biz card. So, I know we're in this digital era, but I was just out in San Francisco networking with a bunch of dudes, most of whom exited with about $250 mil from their last endeavors. Crazy, right? And they were all gaga over my business cards. Simple? Yes. Costly? You better believe it. Memorable? Nearly always. Here's a heavily researched statistic: People whom you give your card to hardly ever reach out. Seriously. They're just as disorganized, scattered and downright procrastinating as you are.
Giving out your card is still like sending a message in a bottle into the sea. BUT it does make a first impression (thank you Head & Shoulders). If you have some cheesy vistaprint shit, people are gonna think differently about you when your follow up email arrives in their inbox than if you hand them a stellar card that drips with "I cost a lot."
You have a snazzy card for the same reason you have a real email address (not @gmail.com) and clean fingernails. Just do it. Please. So, that is it for today! Happy connecting :)))
*I apologize to anyone who has a legit MLM/insurance/real estate hustle. More power to you. The reason I chose those is because those are industries that rely on network to grow. It's less straightforward to use other forms of marketing to grow those businesses.
** No need to attend WGMS. Really.