Business networking is really quite straightforward. All you do is walk up to a complete stranger in a crowded room, make eye contact, introduce yourself, offer your business card then make conversation. What could be easier?
Pretty well anything, most people would say. Many individuals find initiating and carrying out small talk with strangers extremely frightening, even if it could help their business. Others find it an insincere social interaction because it is done precisely to enhance business. Some women feel hit upon in networking situations. So many people avoid it.
But the ability to network is an essential business tool, argue the three authors of a new book about the subject, “The Frog and Prince. Secrets of Positive Networking.”
One of them, Vancouver Board of Trade managing director Darcy Rezac, has conducted networking workshops for the Board for the past five years. He said that the majority of his workshop participants shun networking so there is a need for a guide on how to do it right.
The other co-authors are Judy Thomson, Chief Operating Officer at Frog and Prince Networking Corporation and Gayle Hallgren, Vice President of Marketing at Frog and Prince Networking Corporation, a networking training company,
“People will do business with people they know and trust, and trust is even more important today than it’s ever been,” said Rezac recently.
Hallgren added that now more than ever, business success relies on building long-term bonds, and that requires the personal touch that networking can create.
Yet how do you become a networking expert if it is something you find intensely uncomfortable doing – or something you don’t believe in?
Hallgren acknowledges that networking makes people vulnerable because they risk being rejected when they try to meet new people. The book helps readers get past networking fears and negative assumptions about the activity (it’s schmoozing, it’s terrifying, it’s a waste of time, it’s sleazy, it’s boring, it’s opportunism) by re-defining networking.
Networking isn’t about self-promotion, the book says. It’s about discovering what you can do for others. This can include helping someone find a job, meet an important contact or supplier, or offering your products or services if they are helpful.
Networking works because of the “six degrees of separation” theory, an idea studied by Cornell University mathematicians who discovered that everyone is connected to everyone else by as few as six handshakes. By being connected, business people can have access to other networks halfway around the world.
But how do people build these important relationships?
The authors outline seven networking tips.
Tip #1: Never Forget Your Business Cards The authors recommend that you carry at least seven business cards. When you meet someone, introduce yourself and hand him or her your card. That way you can get a conversation moving.
“You’re doing a person a favour by giving them your business card, you’re giving them a chance to remember your name, ask questions about your company, and where you live,” observed Rezac. Besides being a conversation starter, Hallgren believes, “The act of offering business or personal cards are part of a gracious introduction and not a sales pitch, it’s a civilized way to do business and build relationships.”
Tip #2: Be Approachable The book suggests making eye contact and smiling as the first step in meeting new people. It recommends a proactive approach where you extend your hand, give your card and ask people their names. Be willing to introduce yourself, ask questions and contribute something interesting to the conversation. “You ought not to be overly pushy, overly forward,” said Rezac, “but just by chatting with someone, you’ll always get a response. People are grateful for that”.
Tip#3: Consider Networking in Pairs If it’s too scary to attend networking events alone, bring a friend, spouse, business associate or co-worker, especially if the invitation says you can bring a guest. Tag-team networking helps you memorize names – one of you is bound to remember names the other forgot, plus it’s more fun. Spouses should carry either personal cards or business cards and be ready to talk. Hallgren points out that it’s hard to be a stay-at-home-spouse at networking events, yet having your own card and a volunteer story at the ready makes conversation easy.
Tag-team networking helps you introduce each other and sing one another’s praises. Telling someone about the award you just received may sound boastful coming from you, but if your partner tells the story it comes across better.
Tip#4: Focus on Meeting People Think about what you can do for others at every networking event you attend. “If you want to sell and market, there are channels for that, but not at networking functions,” said Hallgren. “Networking is about building your relationships and if you insist on flogging your product to everyone you meet, you’ll be forgotten about immediately.”
Regularly attending events where you maintain contact with people helps keep relationships fresh and ensures that you meet new people. Adopt a “host mentality” by introducing people you know or have just met to each other. Be polite and include others in your conversations.
Co-author Thomson recommends being on the lookout for “people looking to infiltrate a circle that’s very tight. Make the effort to include them.” Setting a goal of meeting at least seven new people keeps you focussed on building relationships, making the time you spend networking more efficient.
Tip#5: Maximize Opportunities to Expand Your Network. Networking goes on all the time. Recognizing this is the key to success. Meeting people in both business and social situations, volunteering, joining local organizations, or giving your expertise for free are great ways to build your network.
Tip#6: Keep Practicing Continually hone your networking skills by attending networking events. Try going to one event a week to meet new people and maintain your existing network. But don’t show up with nothing to say. Prepare some interesting conversational topics beforehand by reading newspapers and industry publications.
Tip#7: Follow-up With Your Contacts When you discover what you can do for someone, do it. This makes you reliable, prompt, and trustworthy-key qualities in building long-term relationships. Be sure to follow through on commitments and record the promises you make. “Don’t send emails right away after an event; send them for a specific reason”, said Thomson. Follow up at holiday times and invite people to events that may be of interest to them. Treat everyone with respect and you’ll be linked to a world of opportunity.
In the end, the authors playfully remind readers that you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince. So, go ahead help out a stranger. You could be pleasantly surprised by the result.
Dr. Jennifer Newman and Dr. Darryl Grigg are registered psychologists and directors of Newman & Grigg Psychological and Consulting Services Ltd., a Vancouver-based corporate training and development partnership. They can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Identifying information in cases cited has been changed to protect confidentiality.