Over the past 15 years I’ve asked hundreds of executives three questions on the topic of networking. The response to my first question – “How important is networking to you?” – is always ‘It’s critical’. It’s true: if you want a seat at the table, who you know can make all the difference. I learned this lesson as I have learned most of my lessons – the hard way. Starting afresh in the US in 2000 with absolutely zero connections, I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
My response to my second question – “Are you networking as much as you need (to produce the result you seek)?” – was an overwhelming ‘no’, which led me naturally to ask the third: “Do you enjoy it?” Of the tiny proportion responding ‘yes’ (they love to network), only a tiny fraction get what it’s really about – and how to go about it.
Traumatized by my early experiences at networking events in the early ‘noughties’, I for one avoided anything remotely resembling networking for many years.
Many very sane people despise networking – with good reason. But, in much the same way that I believe dating shouldn’t be confused with ‘speed’ dating, I do believe that so-called networking ‘events’ have given genuine networking, which naturally happens each and every day, a bad rap.
Many people detest networking because a) they’re bad at it, b) it doesn’t produce the results they want (in terms of quantity or speed) or c) for the simple reason that they don’t enjoy it. If you hate doing something, you should stop doing it. Immediately. Continue, and your hatred for the thing itself becomes redirected – at you.
As with many things, we often experience discomfort with that which we don’t quite understand. If any of the above applies to you, chances are you’re not doing it right. Whether you are networking for business or career purposes, or for some other reason altogether, the rules are the same. Before we cover the Golden Rules, let’s cover the Don’ts first:
How aging rock stars network
- Show up anywhere and everywhere. If you’re not going to respect your time, why should others? Blindly going where you think you ‘should’ go, instead of listening to what is calling you, is the mistake from which you can never recover.
- Play to cold crowds. In a world awash with white noise, people need a reason to listen to you. Give them that reason ahead of time instead of trying to ‘speed rapport’ your way into connection with complete strangers. (See below for the how-to.)
- Don’t prepare for the gig. Just wander on-stage assuming your natural ‘wow’ factor will, well, wow ‘em.
- Focus on you. Act like the world revolves around you. Talk about you, you, you.
- Perform on autopilot. Turn out the same tired tracks (elevator pitches) you can sing in your sleep. If you’re not fully alert and conscious, how can you expect your audience to be?
We’ve all been ‘cornered’ by an aging rock star or two. It’s not a pleasant experience and we work hard to make sure there isn’t a repeat performance. So how do we make sure we’re not that guy?
The golden rules (aka how to network like a leader)
Leaders think long-term. Coincidentally (not!) networking works best long-term. Bear that in mind when you read the following. Let go of trying to ‘get’ something from everyone else, and focus on what you can give. Many people at the top of their game admit to feeling isolated at times. Maybe what you can ‘give’ is focused, clear, fun, unselfish attention. Worth bearing in mind as you read the ‘Do’s’ that follow:
- Make targeted appearances. Get clear on who you specifically want to connect with and create opportunities to meet them. Remember that networking is all about 1:1 connections: if you never want to go to another networking ‘event’ you don’t have to. Why compete with others all after the same thing when you can create a 1:1 opportunity with better odds? To that end, better to invest some high quality time in research and preparation in a few high quality targeted connections: think rifle, not machine-gun.
- Warm up your connection. As any high quality sales person knows, ‘establish credibility’ is the first gateway to make it through in any stranger’s mind. Without that, your ‘relevance’ (whether it’s you personally or what you represent) is immaterial. So make sure your credibility is obvious – or, better still, get someone they respect and trust to talk you up based on their genuine experience of you as a person. ‘Warming up’ also refers to them warming up to the idea of meeting you. Create a reason for meeting that will add value to them.
- Prepare for the gig. Ask yourself: what does their world look like right now? Do your research in any way you can. Given what’s going on for them right now, what might they be in the market for? What could you offer them that would make their life easier or less difficult? What might their pain points be? And what could you do to alleviate them? Create a story of how you think their world might look right now and walk into the meeting not believing it – but with a questioning strategy in place that is sufficiently robust to test your hypothesis and flush out the truth.
- Focus on them. Your only mission in your first encounter, as stated in point #3, is to raise the other person’s energy. That means focusing on what you can contribute that will reduce the pain they are currently experiencing in some area of their life – or directly increase pleasure. These two primary drivers determine everything that we do. Do this well and over time you will distinguish yourself in their eyes for what you are: one of the tiny minority who actually cares about making their life better, instead of always obsessing about your own. Leadership is all about raising energy. When you have been focused on raising others’ energy, at some point you will have earned the right to make one or two well-positioned requests designed to raise your own.
- Track their energy by being here. Now. The paradox of preparing such a robust strategy is that it allows you to relax once you’re face to face. Regardless of how formal or informal the encounter, walk in with your top three questions up your sleeve. Remember, the point of the questions is to verify or replace your assumptions. You’re looking for a way to contribute – to give them a logical reason to want to connect with you. At the end of the day, that reason may surprise you both: stay relaxed and your connection points will reveal themselves – but not if you’re acting like a B movie actor delivering a badly written script. Your job is simply to raise their energy – so do it by tracking what raises theirs ( as well as what doesn’t) and act accordingly.
This strategy works for me because it fits with my value system. What works for you?
Title: How Not to Network (Like an Aging Rock Star)
Reviewed by Marie W on Feb 11
Summary: Found it useful. Worth reading.
Description: If you hate networking, read this. A refreshing take, offering excellent advice that makes it possible for you to do it on your terms – and even enjoy it.