Networking is an Art
Returning home from SXSW — always such a treat. Between the sore feet and the SXSars, you almost wonder if all the trekking around, events, parties and networking was worth it. Yah, it was.
This was my fourth time at SXSW, and every year I learn something new and valuable. Sure, some folks may have said it’s the year of Grumpy Cat, but with another 3500 folks projected to attend the show this year compared to 2012, there’s another big issue at hand – how in the world do you meet new people and make meaningful connections when confronted with masses of people?
When it comes down to it, networking is an art. However, it’s undervalued and hard to measure. I mean, saying “I met xx reporter or xx entrepreneur” – what does that lead to in the near term? Probably nothing unless you foster a long-term relationship that is beneficial for both parties.
To build those golden relationships, there are ways to navigate conferences and events in a meaningful way — as well as pitfalls to avoid. This is based on my experiences and also from those I would consider “pro networkers”. So without further adieu… here are my “Do” and “Dont’s” for networking:
1. Don’t interrupt someone for lengthy amounts of time when they are in the middle of business: I see (and experience) this all the time. Person A is sitting in the lobby or convention center working. It’s obvious that they are on the computer or in the middle of an important conversation. Then someone comes up (usually clad in a startup t-shirt) and goes in for the kill. #Fail.
In the past, there was one way to connect with someone: in person, unless you had their landline phone number or pager. Today, there are many ways to get someone’s attention: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, email, cell phone, etc. I know you think if you don’t talk to them now, you’ll miss out. Not true. Instead of your planned elevator pitch, how about a quick acknowledgement that you know who they are, respect their work, and then leave a card behind. Say: “Hi XX- see you are busy. Loved your (insert post, book, whatever relevant work here). I’m going to send you a quick note later about something I think would be of interest to you.” Guess what? That took all of 10 seconds. And they can get back to work knowing you respect their time. #Win.
2. Do go up to someone you want to connect with even if you aren’t prepared: Fret not. I am the queen of never having business cards and running into folks at inopportune times. Make these moments an opportunity. Sometimes I’m running through an airport and see a person I’ve been meaning to connect with. Or maybe I’m at Starbucks in a strange town. Whatever. I could be a total mess and not remotely prepared but there’s always a reason to say, “Hi!”
Again, always approach someone at a fortuitous moment (if they are busy, read rule #1 above). Prior (and if you have a moment), go onto your phone and search on Google. Look for their last tweet, Facebook post, news article, blog post, etc. Find something relevant to break the ice, if you don’t already have something planned. (I’m sure some people would say “that’s not genuine” but I’m not a robot and can’t keep tabs on every single person in my life). Then say, “Hi!” and something positive that relates to them and their work. Please, don’t talk about yourself incessantly. This isn’t about you – it’s about why they should take the time to talk to you. If you get the time to pitch, I’d still recommend you withhold some of the details so you have something awesome to share when you connect in a sit down meeting, which is the goal here – to build a relationship.
3) Don’t make this interaction all about you: When I went through Pfizer sales training, I learned a valuable lesson: look at the other person’s forehead and imagine a sign that says, “What does this mean to me?” All too often, people are wrapped up in their own lives and forget what talking to another person really means. Have you ever sat through a conversation where someone just talked about themselves the entire time and didn’t stop to ask you a single question? Annoying, right?
Remember at the end of the day – it’s not just about networking, it’s about relationships. The quick pitch may make you feel like “mission accomplished” but is it, really? What about getting to know someone else on a fundamental level and take it from there? To be honest, I will often not introduce myself to someone in favor of an introduction from a friend because I feel it’s much more meaningful. This just happened at SXSW when a very well known, well-respected friend in tech asked why I didn’t introduce myself to a celebrity that everyone was cooing over. My response? “I’d rather have an introduction from you vs. being one of the 1000 people that hit him up and he won’t remember.” (I got a smile from said tech guru. YAY).
Do tell me – what are your networking tips and tricks?