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It’s like singles dating Dreamforce, like most conferences now is geared up to be presentations and a series of “business networking” events. With talk of mixing business with pleasure made me consider the real similarities between networking events and singles dating clubs.
Location: Networking events are often held in a bar. Guess what? Singles mingle in bars all the time, and the booze is a flowing in both types of events.
Attendance: Much like Saturday night at a sports bar, the men will vastly outnumber the women.
Breaking the ice: Rather like attending a matchmaker’s party, the business networker is often given something to help break the ice while meeting new people. Sometimes it’s just a name tag. Other times it’s a badge, colour-coded to what your professional niche is, or what your convention status is. Or everyone has a code badge with specific characters – find another person with an identical stamp on their card and you win a prize. Sounds like arranged marriages!!
The people: At networking events, there seem to be two types of people: those huddling with entourage, only occasionally leaving their group to fetch a new drink; and those who approach potential partners and drop opening lines like “Hi, my name’s Bob. What’s your job?” Sound familiar?
Making the introduction: At networking events, the vast majority of opening lines revolve around dropping your title and/or enquiring as to the other person’s job. So it’s not “what’s your star sign”, but “what do you do for a living”. An opening line is still just that, even if more people lead in with a handshake in networking events than their singles equivalent.
Leaving with a partner: At a business event, you might be looking for a client or partner. The exact same thing occurs at a singles party, although modesty precludes too close an examination of this context.
Looks are important: While you’re out looking for that business partner, there are frightening parallels. Looks are still important, though the emphasis is maybe the cut of one’s suit. Business cards are collected and fancy titles savored. All the better if you partner with the CEO, instead of a programmer.
Looking for funding: When the networking is for Venture Capital and potential investors then this is the business equivalent of a Sugar Daddy. A lot of people would like nothing more than to have an investor fund their short-term, exit-strategy-focused venture. That is to say, they want to be taken out for dinner and bought some jewelry before they stop returning phone calls. Then there’s another class of investor-stalking attendee that’s looking for first-round financing for a long-range business plan. These people are looking for a ring.
The morning after: Just like Saturday night, even though everyone’s out looking for a partner, almost every one still goes home alone. And for those who don’t go home alone, sometimes their new partners don’t look so good in the morning. Much as a single person would rather gnaw off their arm, as to slip out in the morning without waking a particularly distasteful partner, a breach of contract lawsuit is the ultimate extension of Coyote Love.
Most people feel they need to attend business networking events, but are scared, hang onto the wall, talk to a few inappropriate people and come away horribly disappointed.
Here are 12 pointers to help you improve radically:
1. Know why you’re there. Is it for the social side, to develop sales or to raise your profile? Then ask the question “Can I achieve that here?”
2. Set LOW expectations – aim to get NO MORE THAN 2 business cards or useful / relevant contacts.
3. Treat every interaction as a “Conversation of Possibilities”. Go with an open mind, not a targeted sales pitch.
4. Check seating plan – Sod’s Law of Networking. If there’s a dinner, you are likely to be sitting next to the person you spent time talking to prior to the dinner, so wasting an opportunity.
5. Leave residual energy – give more than you take. Good Karma as @guykawasaki would say.
6. Be interested in them, ask open questions. – questions that start how, why, who, when, when.
7. Badge on right lapel – so when you shake hands that is where their eyes go.
8. Getting rid of someone; Introduce them to someone else, or say “I need to move on” or go the bathroom.
9. If you know nobody in the room; Take your time and look around, look at groups for opening, join but don’t stop the conversation, introduce yourself in a FEW SHORT WORDS – make an impression.
10. If you want them to take your card, ask for theirs.
11. Take a pen to write notes on the back of their card, so you can do Tip 12,
12. Follow-up .. do what you said you would. SO FEW PEOPLE DO. This one simple act will make you stand out.