By Vijay Khatnani, Managing Partner, J2 Solutions
Last month, Sanjay wrote a blog about the value of networking, and what it should be versus what it’s become in the age of the emoji. At J2 Solutions, one of our core values, the development of personal relationships, is extremely important in doing those things. Today, I’d like to expand on the topic and share my thoughts as it relates to in-person networking, particularly when it comes to events.
The face of networking – how it’s done, why it’s done – has changed drastically over the course of my 20-year career. Relationship building seems to have taken a back seat to today’s current mode of networking – that is, hitting as many people as possible in as short a time as possible. Relationships are not built on quick-hits and drive-bys. They’re built by taking the time to get to know someone.
That’s why I find tremendous value in networking events, where like-minded professionals come together to discuss common interests and goals. A networking event is an excellent place to not only initiate relationships, but also nourish and maintain them. In the age of technology, these events get you out from behind the laptop or smartphone and in front of other living, breathing people. The problem is, many people are going about it the wrong way – at least, in my observation.
Case in point: I was once at an event where I saw a woman hand her last business card to someone she felt was a valuable contact, only to take it back from that person minutes later so she could give it to someone she felt was more worthy. That, in my humble opinion, is an example of what not to do. Had she been less focused on getting her business cards in the hands of as many people as possible, she’d have been in a better position to nurture that more valuable contact or possibly both.
Yes, I’ve seen a thing or two (as evidenced by the above example). I’ve also experienced first-hand what it takes to walk out of a networking event having formed meaningful relationships that didn’t exist before – relationships that I continue to maintain today.
Below, I’ve outlined eight tips for making the most of a networking event:
- Value quality over quantity. That’s my mantra when it comes to these events. It’s not about how many business cards you hand out or collect, it’s about the meaningful conversations you have with other professionals. I’d much rather have six or seven substantive dialogues rather than having simply shaken 30 hands.
- Be authentic. Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. Be who you are in an authentic way. Maybe you’re a recent college grad and you’re looking for that first post-college job. Great! Be that person, and don’t act as though you have a decade of experience when you don’t. Chances are the person you’re speaking with has been there, too. Most people respond to “real,” even if real isn’t perfect. Faking perfection will only help you build that fake relationship.
- Don’t sell. If you attend a networking event just to sell your product, or even to sell yourself, you may be in the wrong place. People can smell a hidden agenda from a mile away. No one goes to these events to hear a sales pitch; they go to forge relationships. Don’t get me wrong – it’s always a good idea to go in with certain people in mind that you want to meet, and maybe even research them in advance – just don’t jump on them to close the sale when you finally do cross paths.
- Listen with your heart, not your brain. Have you ever been engaged in a conversation with someone you knew wasn’t really listening to you, but was merely looking for an opening to add his or her two cents? Me, too. I’m sure we all have. Sure, that person is hearing your words, but is he or she listening to what you’re saying? Probably not. I call this, “fake ears.” When you’re at an event and engaged in a dialogue with someone, throw the fake ears in the trash and actively listen to every person you come into contact with.
- Be curious. Give before you receive. Ask questions about the other person and take an interest in his or her response. By making the dialogue about that person, you’re showing that you care about what he or she is saying and not about what you might get out of the interaction.
- Smile. Be approachable and friendly. Seems like a no-brainer, but I felt it was worthy of mention.
- Follow up. Within a couple of days or so after the event, send a short email or hand-written note (yes, those still exist). Reference some part of your conversation and suggest getting together to continue that dialogue. But be patient; don’t rush the relationship.
- Stick with it. Networking is a two-way street. Don’t join a group, take what you need, then quit. Remember that you may have something of value to offer someone else in the group.
Interestingly, I’ve found networking to be very much of a pay-it-forward endeavor. When I was unemployed, a networking contact helped me land on my feet without expecting anything in return, just as someone once helped him without expecting anything in return. Today, I do the same for others with the hope that they will extend the same courtesy to another person down the line.
Networking is perhaps the most valuable business tool we all have at our fingertips – if we choose to take part in it. So tuck that stack of business cards away in your pocket, and focus instead on the quality of your interactions.
What are some of your more memorable networking experiences – good, bad, or ugly? Tell me about them in the comments section!