Why this stuff fires me up.
Have you ever been the victim of a horrible networker?
You’re cornered. They talk nonstop about themselves. If they stop, it’s only to catch a breath. If they ask you a question, it’s only so your answer can inspire them to think of more things to talk about that involves themselves.
By the end of it, it feels as if the wind is being taken out of you. Like you were the punching bag to their boxing gloves.
Before you think I’m a big mean guy who only wants to hate on bad networkers, let me take a half step back. There are many reasons why people aren’t good at creating meaningful connections. Some are controllable–like being selfish or nervous–while other reasons may not be as easy to handle, like social anxiety or other things of that nature.
I didn’t create this little guide for expert networkers.
Really, I created it for the entrepreneurs who might struggle at networking. Your message is just as important to share as anyone else’s.
Hopefully this quick little post helps you share that message with more confidence, more empathy, and more success.
Let’s get started!
Someone will ask what you do. Tell them that you’re working on an idea for a startup. If you’re a student, tell them that you’re a college student working on an idea for a startup. Play the student card heavy and often!
If they ask you what your idea is, then tell them your idea in 3 short sentences or less. That little paragraph should be something that you practice and pitch and refine before you hit the networking circuit.
Here are a few examples from my business ventures or clients I’ve worked with on brand:
- Nubooth: Finding incredible sponsors for incredible events.
- Verge: A monthly event built to give local tech startups national exposure.
- InitialSignatures: Creating a website you can be proud of for a price that’s unheard of.
I always aim to create tiny descriptions that clearly communicate what we do, but don’t explain how we do it. If I do it right, then it leaves the listener wanting more.
You’ll want to say more, but don’t. Pause for a second. Let them think.
Let them make the next move.
If they ask you to tell them more about your idea, then tell them more. This is when most people will launch into how they do it. While the “how” can be interesting, I’ve tweaked my approach to telling them a quick story instead.
Here’s an example for InitialSignatures: “So, I started this company in a hotel bathroom in New Orleans…”
People love it. So find your story, make it short, and deliver it when they ask for more.
But what if they don’t ask for more?
It might be difficult to restrain yourself, but don’t tell them more. Be patient! It’s not all about us.
Regardless of what happens next, point the conversation back to them.
If they asked about you, then tell your quick story and point it back at them. If they didn’t ask about you, don’t have hurt feelings and turn the conversation back towards them. Be curious.
Don’t ask, “What do you do?” Instead, this is the line I use, “But I’m curious, what kinds of projects are YOU working on?”
Then do not spend one more second talking about your project with them unless THEY ask you. I’ll explain why in just a second.
Ask them questions, make jokes, be smart, be awkward, be yourself.
Most importantly, be human.
Smoothly closing the conversation.
Ask them if they have any contact info on them because you’d like to stay in touch.
If there’s no obvious reason for you two to stay in touch, then say, “I can’t think of anyone right now who would be a good connection for you, but I want to keep in touch in case I meet someone!”
If there’s an obvious reason for you to stay in touch, then say, “I’d love to stay in touch so I can pick your brain about XYZ. That cool with you?”
Then move onto another person.
Handling contact info.
When it comes to business cards, I think they’re a perfect waste of money.
I’ve made a bunch of money via email, text, FaceTime, and phone calls. Not once has a business card wired me money.
The best circumstance is when people don’t have business cards. That’s the perfect excuse to swap phone numbers or send an email to each other right on the spot. That keeps things personal, which keeps things trustworthy.
Business runs on trust, so skip the cards.
What if the person is an asshole?
You’ll meet people who you won’t want to hang out with.
If they’re really abominable, then you can “recycle” their card. My dirty little secret is that I use other people’s cards as bookmarks. Feel free to copy!
However, never ever throw a card away because you don’t think the person is useless to you.
Quick story. Before he was a client, one of my top clients stopped me at one of my events.
After a quick chat, he handed me his card. It was a cheesy card. The graphics weren’t up to snuff, and he didn’t sound like his business was anything special.
At the end of the event, I opened my computer to start working through the huge stack of business cards people left me. I emailed each person one by one to follow up, thanking them for attending and lining up phone calls to keep in touch.
Then I got to that cheesy card.
I almost threw it away. Instead, I set it on my desk and told myself that I’d get back to it later. Later came, and I still didn’t really feel like emailing him.
But I did.
Two years later, he moved his business into the big time. Thankfully, he’s taken me along for the ride.
Moral of the story: follow up.
This is what I consider to be a WIN.
If you exit a conversation without ever really revealing more about your project, then you are in the absolute best spot to eventually win them over.
The balance is in your favor.
When you connect with them again, they’ll really ask you about what you’re working on and you can really talk about it. If you reconnect and they don’t really ask you about what you’re working on, then you know that they’re not the right type of person for your circle.
They’re not generous enough.
Don’t be manipulative, for goodness sake.
Use this strategy for good.
The most effective way to execute on this strategy is to do it generously and truthfully. Actually care. Really be curious. Don’t be a screw.
If you become manipulative in these scenarios, many people will see right through you. And if they don’t see right away, you will get caught eventually.
Final thought: the only way this works is if you deliver on your promises.
There’s a popular saying in the business world that goes like this: “The fortune is in the follow up.”
Actually, that’s not really where the fortune is hidden.
The fortune is in the follow through.
Connect, follow up, and follow through.
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