Reinvigorate this thing we call networking
As the business world begins to unlock from the straightjacket of the pandemic we once more enter into the realms of ‘networking’ or as I recently found myself ‘netWALKING’. Yes a play on words but actually quite refreshing. Both to see people in person and to get some vital vitamin D inside ya.
After months (well, over a year) of being locked into a small screen, staring at images of even more small screens. Trying our best to listen in to the pitches of others and keep our own fresh, its time to reinvigorate this thing we call networking.
I’m bored of my own pitch
I don’t know about you but I am so tired of re-telling my story. Often these facilitated sessions see us grouped with 6 or 7 people for 10-20mins, where you share basically who you are, what you do and the client/work you are looking for. After which you are randomly mixed up. This means you are likely to see the same faces again, hear and tell the same stories AGAIN. This process is repeated say 4 times, maybe more! By the end of the session if you have shared the same pitch you are likely to be bored of your own words (I know I was). If so, people will notice this and that’s no good for business… who wants to hear from someone that is not enthusiastic about their own work.
Facilitated networking events
My experience of traditional and even more forward thinking networking sessions is that its all about nailing the pitch. In 45-60 seconds you need to grab attention, describe your service and close the deal. Its about referrals and exchanges. I know this is not my style, I’ve tried it and it just doesn’t fit with me. I mean how do you make trusted referrals to strangers you are yet to build a trust with. The slick pitch is not enough for me to trust in you and its not likely to be enough for you to trust in me. I’m by no means dissing this approach its just not my cuppa.
What I would say is these are great places to go to learn your craft. There are some great people at these events who have become quite clearly skilled at delivering both concise messaging and leading people to want to buy (or refer).
Testing the water of a new way
Over the last 6 months or so I have attended various networking sessions, watching, observing, testing, playing, all with a view to working out what could be an alternative format – here’s what I found:
Sometimes I’d do the traditional pitch and notice we just moved on to the next person. If there was time left after our allotted slot we either had silence, random conversation about something and nothing or at times a follow up question might be asked between people. Here I was simply on transmit, trying to nail a concise message of what I do, the difference I make and simplify the call to action.
Other times I would take a questioning approach, asking things that made people think about what they may need in relation to my business area (broadly people development) and then basically said I could provide this service. Here I was trying to raise peoples awareness to things going on in their world which they may not know are challenges and then link myself to these.
And on the odd occasion I wouldn’t say anything about my work but would just ask about other peoples businesses. Trying to discover their ‘wicked’ problems that either I or someone else on the call may be able to help them with. Here I was trying to build trust between people, not aiming to sell a service but to gain a growing faith in me.
As an aside – we are often in a room full of sellers, not buyers! Which means everyone is focused on telling their story in the hope it is heard by others. If we are all focused on telling our story not many of us are leaning in curiously and listening.
Arm me with a legitimate reason to tell a story
My request to those who set up networking sessions is PLEASE, arm me with a legitimacy to tell a story (beyond what I do). I believe strongly that a shift is needed, away from the directness of:
- My name is….
- I work for…
- We do….
- We are looking to work with….
Towards curiosity in conversation.
Perhaps these small networking groups should be armed with no more than the following 3 questions:
- Tell me what you do through the eyes of the clients you work with?
- Going forward who would you like to work with and why?
- What are your ‘wicked problems’, the things getting in your way?
Question one reveals not just what you do but how clients see you, why you are important to them (you are more than just a service provider), it also gives a sense of the projects you are proud of and the client type you currently work with. It offers credibility.
Question two reveals not just your business aspirations but the why behind your growth plan. Do you want to get bigger and busier, do you want to diversify, how sustainable are you going to be. It offers insight.
Question three reveals some vulnerability, an honesty and an authenticity. It allows for a deeper two way connection with you, it helps others see where they may be of service to you. So this is no longer just about you wanting to sell but you being able to grow with the help of the network. It offers connection.
Lets not go back there people… lets not go back to the directness of transmit, lets be deliberately curious from the off..
For those who set up networking sessions, its more than just booking a venue and inviting people to it, in the hope magic matching and referrals will occur. Its more than just finding out who people are and what they do. This is the starting point yes, but networking is about relationship building. Its about shifting from transmit to curiosity. So lets not tell people what to say. lets start helping people know what to ask.
Kurt Ewald Lindley – always happy to talk about how you can get the most out of what you do, don’t be shy click here and say hi!