How to have fun networking (seriously!)

Don’t you hate networking … schmoozing, walking up to strangers, button-holing people, blabbing about how you are VP of this or CxO of that, and shoving your business card in their pockets?

But at VEF last night I had a great time networking – and it was simple, too. I met seven new, interesting, technical, and business-oriented people. I learned new relevant things. I found out how others had solved non-trivial technical and social problems. And I heard about interesting companies doing cool things that I had somehow never heard of before.

How? Simple.

It’s not about you
I focused on other people. Instead of coming up with all kinds of things to say, introductions to make, pitches to deliver, I just focused on others. Completely.

All of a sudden, everything became easy.

I would walk up to someone, say hi, and ask them what they do. Then I would just listen – really listen. People love to talk – most people, anyways. And their favorite subject is themselves.

But for many of us, listening is not easy, and it’s not natural.

Real listening means:

  1. Being genuinely interested
  2. Asking clarifying questions
  3. Commenting intelligently from time to time
  4. Maintaining eye contact about 80% of the time
  5. Most importantly, paying attention

Conversely, listening does NOT mean:

  1. Furiously thinking of the next thing you’re going to say
  2. Looking around the room, thinking about who you’re NOT talking to right now
  3. Interrupting
  4. Turning the conversation where you want it to go

Don’t worry – they’ll get to you
By now, you might be wondering … OK, but the point of networking is making contacts. If I just listen, what’s the point?

Fear not – the conversation will come to you. Inevitably, except with the most conceited and solipsistic people, the question will be asked: “So, what do you do?”

That’s your opportunity. Not to dominate the conversation, and not to give a long-winded spiel about your new business venture. It’s your opportunity to give your 30-second elevator pitch. For instance, here’s mine:

I’m John Koetsier … by day I’m a product manager for an education company, and by night I’m a social media consultant – blogging, podcasting, etc. – helping companies figure out how social media can help with marketing, product development, and PR.

That’s it – no more. If someone’s interested, they’ll pick it up. Inevitably, if you’ve crafted a compelling enough elevator pitch, someone will say: “Cool. What does that mean?” Or some other question about social media (in my case; something different in yours).

That’s what I did last night, and that’s what worked – seven times. And I had a much better time than at most meet & greets.

The secret is actually to be interested in people and interested in what they do. This is so rare that people will want to talk to you and – amazingly – think that you are interesting.

After that, it’s all easy.

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Interested in more information about networking? Check out Darcy Rezac’s The Frog and the Prince. I participated in an online seminar of his half a year ago, and really, really enjoyed it.

[tags] networking, schmoozing, john koetsier [/tags]

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