A few years ago I was speaking at the Australian Institute of Learning and Development conference in Melbourne and as my flight didn’t leave until that evening, I was able to sit, relax and listen to some of the other presenters. One of the speakers that was of great interest to many members was the head of Training and Development at Rio Tinto. He spoke of how he HATED unsolicited approaches from training companies, how he threw all business cards in the bin and refused to even open unsolicited mail.
I watched with amusement when, at the end of his presentation, people were rushing up to him to give him their business cards! Networking is about relationships. Good relationships are built on excellent communication, trust and respect – and because of this, they take time.
Here are five things NOT to do when networking:
1. Rush at people with business cards Some people go by the motto “She who collects the most business cards wins”. I saw this recently when a guy approached my table with a wad of cards, interrupted our conversation, licked his fat thumb and slapped cards in front of everyone saying “Well, that’s the networking done!” Work on the relationship first. Find out what it is that they do, ask them what challenges they are facing. Slow down. Listen. And then, if you can help them with a problem, offer your card, or better still, ask for theirs.
2. Arrive late so you ‘make an entrance’ Networking meetings can get manic. I find I am in a much better mental state if I get there early, introduce myself to the organiser, offer my assistance if they look particularly stressed and then proceed to rescue a wallflower or two. Rescuing wallflowers is a great way to overcome your nerves and meet new people. At every event you go to there is a person standing there with a glass of chardonnay in their hand with a panicked expression on their face. Go up to them, smile, shake their hand and say “Hi, I don’t know anyone here, so I thought I’d come and introduce myself.” You have just made a friend for life!
3. Hang around with your friends Confession: I love people watching. At a recent networking event I was observing a group of women. I watched them enter the room in a huddle, sit down at the same table and spent the next hour and a half talking to each other. I know meeting new people can be scary, but it can also be a lot of fun and crucial for your career. So don your confidence cloak, strike a power pose, smile and step away from your friends.
4. Talk about you ALL the time One of my favourite jokes: “Well… that’s enough about me, let’s talk about you… what do you think of me?” Every time you engage with an individual, whether you are chatting at an event or speaking at a conference, they are thinking WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?) Everyone has a story within them – all you need to do is ask the right questions.
5. Sell your services Networking is about meeting people and developing relationships. Leave the sales pitch until you have met with them one-on-one and have a clear understanding of their needs.
So, getting back to Mr. Rio Tinto T&D man. It’s the old Catch 22. They only want to work with people they know, but they refuse to meet with new people. How do you make a connection?
Simple really… find out what they need. As I was watching him being mobbed by eager punters and being buried under business cards, I thought ‘what does he need right now?’ The answer was simple, like me he had a flight to catch, so he needed to get to the airport. I had a taxi booked and when it arrived I went up to him and said “Hi, I have a cab waiting would you like a ride to the airport?” We had a lovely trip. We spoke about our kids, the challenges in finding the perfect laksa paste and the stress caused by the fly-in, fly-out lifestyle. And no, I did not give him my business card, but after 40 minutes chatting, there was no need to.