Guy Kawasaki (Co-founder; Garage Technology Ventures)
“Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.”
Jane Howard (Author, Getting It Right)
“My Golden Rule of Networking is simple: Don’t keep score.”
Harvey Mackay (Founder & CEO; Mackay Envelope Corporation)
Networking is not what you think it is.
Carbonated drinks really sting when they’re thrown in your face. I found this out at the first networking event I went to in college. It was the end of my senior year and I was at a combination job fair and student meet up. An ex-girlfriend who I hadn’t talked to in months was there. She didn’t like me very much and she was armed with 16 ounces of soda (a bad combination). We saw each other and 2 seconds later my eyes were burning with sugar and carbon dioxide. Don’t worry, I survived. But I was really embarrassed. I was standing right in front of a recruiter at the time. The recruiter let me wipe my face off with one of the free corporate T-shirts he was handing out. The next day he emailed me with an offer to do an internship with his company. Why?
About two years ago I was at an event sponsored by a Meetup group in San Diego looking for someone to help me with web development and social media marketing. A really ambitious guy came up to me and introduced himself and started telling me about all of his experience. He was definitely qualified for what I needed him to do. Then, he kept talking. And talking. And talking. After 10-15 minutes of his blabbering, I went from thinking, “I’m looking forward to working with this guy” to “I never want to see this guy again.” And, I say this respectfully, his breath was the worst. It was like a small animal died and was eaten by a larger animal that climbed into his mouth and also died. I decided against working with him. Instead, I hired a girl who was less qualified but who smelled normal and asked me a lot of really good questions about my project.
The Networking Barrier
Most big deals don’t happen online. Understand that power moves are made in person. It doesn’t matter if you’re shy or talkative, an introvert or an extrovert, a software engineer or a salesman, sooner or later, no matter your field, you’re going to have to network. This doesn’t mean friend requesting people on Facebook or clicking the “Endorse” button on LinkedIn. This means going to live events and talking with other human beings in person over and over again. Connecting online is a quick way to start a relationship but it’s an extremely slow way to build a relationship. The fastest way to achieve real growth and real trust is by meeting someone in person. The truth is, you can know more about a person after 10 minutes of interacting face-to-face than you can after 12 months of interacting online. In any organization or endeavor, success can only be sustained by breaking through the networking barrier and learning to communicate and rally support for your ideas in person. It’s impossible to be a leader online only. Even extremely introverted and online-oriented people like Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs had to break through the networking barrier.
No one believes your online profile. Good luck getting a job, getting promoted, or getting customers without networking face-to-face. Personal referrals now account for 50% of all hires at top firms. Personal referrals are also the #1 source of hiring volume and the #1 source of hiring quality. No one worthwhile is going to give you a reference without meeting you in person or at least talking to you on the phone a few times. The good news is that the internet has made it easier than ever to find and organize offline networking events. The bad news is that most people at these events have no idea how to network effectively.
The average person goes to conference, job fair, or meet up to get drunk and talk about themselves. This is not networking. This is partying. Networking is not about boozing and chatting. And it’s not about adding to your contact list, collecting name cards, schmoozing, or being seen. The whole point of networking is to build your reputation and to initiate action. The hard truth is networking is work and you should do it with a purpose. Of course you can (and should) have fun too. But you should definitely prepare. You should stop being sloppy. You should try to see yourself from a stranger’s point of view. This blunt list of networking tips will help you connect effectively at your next event:
1. Stop Talking
No one cares what you have to say. You’re annoying and you’re voice sounds like someone’s nails being scraped across a chalkboard. That’s how you should act anyway. At most networking events, 99% of the people attending are there for one reason and one reason only: to be discovered. They think that someone is going to walk up to them, ask a few questions, and say, “Finally, I’ve been waiting my whole life to meet you. My company can’t survive another day without you. Here’s a million dollars, will you work for us?” As a result, these people talk about themselves constantly in hopes of getting discovered. This is your chance to be different. When you go to a networking event, your sole mission should be to let everyone else talk about themselves as much as possible. Most people love talking about themselves. Let these people get drunk on their own words. It will make them happy. And then they’ll associate you with their happiness.
2. Stop Being Awkward
Have you ever been standing in a group of people carrying on a great conversation when all of the sudden some weirdo squeezes himself into the group. He doesn’t introduce himself or ask any questions; he just stands there silently for a few awkward minutes and leaves (or worse, he stays!). No? Then, you’re probably the weirdo. Most people avoid networking events because of awkward moments like these. The best way to prevent awkwardness is to; first, arrive 15-30 minutes late. This will ensure at least a small crowd of people has gathered. Don’t be the guy who shows up even before the event organizer (I’ve done this) and sits in the corner waiting for everyone to arrive. Second, have an exhaustive list of canned, but interesting, questions to ask. Asking good questions is the only way to keep people talking (see tip #1) and to prevent awkward silences. Third, introduce yourself to as many different groups of people as possible. At all social events, people naturally break off into small cliques of 2-8 people. Find groups of 2-4 (it’s hard to connect with anyone when the group is bigger than 4 people) and introduce yourself when there’s a slight pause in the conversation. Any slight pause will do. Then, to avoid the awkward silence that naturally follows most introductions, immediately ask someone a good question. Speaking of awkwardness:
3. Stop Being Boring
You graduated from Cornell? You work for Google? You have an M.B.A. and a Ph.D.? You started a business? Yawn. In 2012, 66.2% of graduating seniors went straight to college. 96.3% of the population has a job. 100% of people call themselves entrepreneurs. So what? Even if you’re followed tips #1 and #2, there will come a point in at least one of your conversations where someone asks you what you do. If you want to keep their eyes from glazing over, don’t tell them where you went to school or what you do for a living. Instead, make a joke (see tip #4) or say something self-degrading (see tip #5). I’ll often tell people I’m lost or that I’m a Wal-Mart greeter who the organizer hired to make people feel comfortable. If someone doesn’t have a sense of humor or if they push you for information, tell them what you do but at least frame it in an interesting way.
4. Be Playful
Always be the person in the room having the most fun. Being playful, flirting, and bantering back and forth will go a lot further with strangers than immediately asking about their jobs. A recent Gallup survey showed that over 70% of people are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” from their jobs. Why would you bring up something that 70% of the population doesn’t care about? Instead, flirt. Flirting has nothing to do with being sexual. Flirting is simply acting as though you are trying to attract someone, but for amusement rather than with serious intentions. When you’re at a networking event, meeting potential business partners and clients, attracting people (male and female) is exactly what you’re trying to do. Be fun, witty, and playful. Keep things light, especially when meeting someone for the first time. You can get down to brass tacks later. The best way to do this is by gently poking fun at yourself (see tip #5) or a friend you came with. Most importantly, smile. Smiling goes a long way and could be what gets you a new client or a new career. In Every Day A Friday, Joel Osteen tells how successful companies like Holiday Inn only hire people that smile. When the hotel chain was looking to fill 500 new jobs, they interviewed over 5,000 people and automatically disqualified any applicant that smiled less than 4 times.
5. Embarrass Yourself
Do you want to hide your weaknesses? Do you want to be taken seriously? Then you should stay home. You’re not ready for prime time. You’re too insecure. Being able to laugh at yourself is a sign of confidence, security, and vulnerability. These are all highly desirable traits. You should force these traits into the limelight by making fun of yourself. The key is to be a little self-degrading without making other people feel sorry for you. The best way to do this is to point out a weakness or a time you messed up while displaying confidence in your posture, tone, and overall demeanor. Just don’t overdo it. And don’t freak out if you slip and fall or spill a drink on yourself. When it comes to these kinds of embarrassing events, there’s no such thing as bad press. People will remember them and, if you recover well, they will remember you and respect you too. I don’t recommend getting a drink thrown in your face, but if it happens, spin it to your advantage.
6. Smell Normal
Your armpits in their natural state do not smell good. A lot of perfume or cologne does not smell good. There’s a line. If people won’t come near you but dogs run to you, you’re off the line one way or another. Research shows that human body odor is genetically connected to human attraction. If you stink, people will want to get as far away from you as possible. Other studies have shown that scent is a powerful memory trigger. This is because the olfactory nerve is located very close to the amygdale, the area of the brain that is connected to emotion and emotional memory. If you or something on you smells bad, people will remember it – forever. The biggest mistake a lot of people make is wearing too much perfume or cologne. The problem is that everyone favors different scents and this favoritism is based on their genetics. It’s better to play it safe and spray yourself very lightly or not at all. Also, wear a popular deodorant that people are used to smelling. Don’t wear a rare, organic, wheatgrass and Manuka, I’ve-never-smelled-this-before and never-want-to-smell-this-again deodorant. Last but not least, brush your teeth. Have you ever had your boss or coworker lean over you to tell you a secret and his breath singed your nose hairs? It’s not fun. Brush before any networking event. Floss too. And chew gum. And sip on something sweet. And trim your nose hairs.
7. Stop Dressing Like Steve Jobs
Unless you’re worth a million dollars or more, don’t wear a T-shirt and sneakers to a networking event.
Dress on purpose. Dress to fit the crowd that you will be networking with. You don’t have to wear a suit but you should wear clean clothes that fit you well. Your clothes shouldn’t stand out on their own. Your clothes should make you, the person underneath, stand out. Leave your graphic cloak and bedazzled pants at home.
8. Quit Being Selfish
Do you sometimes feel like you’re undervalued and unappreciated? If only everyone else knew how much you had to offer. If only they knew how much you were really worth. I understand. But guess what, everyone feels this way. Everyone feels like they’re not getting what they deserve and more people should be helping them. At a networking event, your goal is to make other people forget these feelings. Your goal is to make everyone else feel special. This means giving them your full attention. When they tell you what they do for a living, be amazed and engaged. Ask to hear more; act like you can’t get enough (and be sincere). If they sell something you can afford, buy it. Or at least buy them a round of drinks. The strongest human desire is the desire to be appreciated. A study reported in the Harvard Business Review showed that people who felt unappreciated by a boss or felt they had a boss would didn’t listen to their concerns had a 30% higher rate of coronary disease than those who felt like they were treated fairly and appreciated. If you make people feel important and appreciated, without coming off as a poser or a brown-noser, they will not forget you.
9. Give An Irish Goodbye
Farewells are always awkward and sad. Saying hello is full of promise and expectation but saying goodbye is depressing and subconsciously indicates disappearance and death. The solution is simple: give an Irish Goodbye. Have you ever decided to leave a party and started to say goodbye to someone who didn’t want you to go? Either they would ask you a bunch of questions about why you were leaving, or they would make fun of you for leaving early, or they would act really sad for a few moments like you were saying goodbye forever. Or, have you ever said goodbye to someone at a party and then continued to go around and say goodbye to other people and accidentally run back into the person you already said goodbye to? If you’re like me, when this happens, you probably try to ignore them but end up saying goodbye again awkwardly. Remember, awkwardness is connection kryptonite (see tip #2). The easiest way to not be awkward at the end of a networking event is to give an Irish Goodbye (also known as the French Leave or “ghosting”). To give an Irish Goodbye, all you have to do is excuse yourself and never come back. If you need a reason, say that you’re going to the bathroom, paying your bill, or getting another drink. This works out better for everyone. Besides, by the end of the event most people have had a few drinks and won’t care when you leave (as long as you don’t bring it to their attention). Trust me, the next morning, nobody cares. Here’s the key: replace your goodbye with a heartfelt email the following day. This note can double as a formal thank you to the host or a follow up letter to your new connection (see tip #10).
10. Stop Being Lazy
Real networking happens after the event. Whether you’re trying to attract clients or collaborators, or just trying to make some new friends, the networking event itself is just a lead generator. Deals are made after the event. This means that you have to follow up with the people you met. The best way to do this is to email everyone you connected with the next work day (preferably in the afternoon right after lunch). Even if you follow all of the above tips and do everything else right, people will not remember you for long. Understand that other people don’t think about you as much as you think about yourself. You have to give them a reason to think about you. Following up is the only way to stay on other people’s radar. Make sure you follow up the right way, with a warm thank you, a compliment, free insight, and a call to action. In particular, giving them something for free will leave a strong impression (see tip #8). Of course, you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars to do this. You can simply send them a link to a good article you read relating to their field. Most importantly, make sure you give them a way to contact you, a reason to contact you, and a time to contact you. That’s it. Whatever networking event you attend, enjoy yourself. When it’s time to leave, don’t say goodbye, just ghost. And when the sun comes up the next day, hustle.