How our intimate get-togethers turned into a networking party.
When Spoke started, we used a lot of freelance designers, illustrators, and developers. We thought it was a shame that these talented people never got to know each other to the degree that typical co-workers did. We knew that if they connected, they would collaborate better and find other ways to work together (outside of Spoke). Similarly, our clients had been working with these virtual employees for years and never met face-to-face. The first Spoke Friday was our attempt to right this wrong.
We wined. We dined. We had a blast.
Afterward, one of our illustrators sent us a note, thanking us for having him over and pointed out that it was great to interact with ‘co-workers’ and get to know them. He’d even picked up a job at the party. Similarly, our clients thanked us. They loved getting to meet the people that were creating the work that was driving their business. New friendships were formed, and new ideas on how to grow their business were hatched.
The next week, we talked about how much fun we had and decided there was no good reason not to make it a party open to everyone. The more, the merrier, right?
Since then, we’ve done just that (about once a quarter).
At first, the crowd was marketing-industry heavy, but eventually, the office was swarmed with all sorts of people from every conceivable walk of life (and place of work). We had inadvertently created a networking party that didn’t feel like networking. It felt like going to a party at a friend’s house, and the guests just happened to be (mostly) other businesspeople.
I think the key to the party’s success is that it’s a party. It’s not a networking event, so many of the people that would be put off by the thought of having to talk shop and pass out their business cards (or get the hard sell on Juice Plus) come with a different mindset.
It turns out; we accidentally got a lot of things right.
Too often at typical networking events, people get self-conscious and try to ‘cater’ to what they think is expected of them. A recent study by Franchesca Gino, Ovul Sezer, Alison Wood Brooks, and Laura Huang showed that when people were less authentic (by using ‘impression-management’ strategies such as self-promotion or ingratiation), they were markedly less successful at making connections. Being inauthentic led to feelings of greater anxiety.
Expand beyond your industry.
If you’re like most people, your network consists of people you went to school with, worked with, or are in your industry. There’s a big world out there, network beyond your comfort zone. It’s not about who you know, it’s about who they know.
I did a little digging on my LinkedIn network and found that the majority of my connections are in St. Louis, followed by Chicago, New York, and Denver. Not surprisingly, the highest represented industry is ‘Marketing and Advertising’ (about 28%), but I have a lot of contacts in IT, Financial Services, Design and Real Estate. As the resident old dude at work, most of my connections have been in their field over ten years (80%), but the tattooed and pierced are in the mix. My personal goal will be to expand beyond my industry and maybe even befriend some hipsters (now I just need to find out where to buy beard wax).
Take baby steps.
For many (especially introverts), networking can seem daunting. Remember, when networking quality is much more important than quantity. The next time you have an opportunity to network (i.e., whenever you’re meeting new people), go deep, not wide. Set small, attainable goals. If you’re attending an event, set a goal for time spent and connections made. Start small; maybe you’ll just stay 30 minutes and meet two people. That’s fine. Chances are, once you get there, you’ll end up having fun and exceed your goals.
‘So…how are you doing today?’ could be one of the worst conversation starters ever, but we use it all the time. Any question that can be answered in one word is NOT a conversation starter. Consider asking open-ended questions such as, “What brought you here today?” In case you hadn’t noticed, people love to talk about themselves…give them a chance.
Be a listener.
If you’re like most of us, you’re an awful listener (sorry, but it’s true). One of the best examples of this is remembering people’s names. When we introduce ourselves, we’re often too focused on how we’re perceived, and simply forget to listen to the other person’s name. It’s that simple. It always helps to repeat their name immediately after they say it (i.e., “It’s nice to meet you, Sally.”). You can take it a step further and create a pneumonic device to help you remember their name (i.e., Sally the scientist). This level of active thinking and processing improves your chances of remembering their name drastically.
Also, too often when someone is talking we’re busy thinking about what we’re going to say in response. Instead, focus on what they’re saying. Repeat key phrases that they used back to them; ask them to elaborate. They’ll love it, and you’ll learn a lot.
How can you give?
Your goal shouldn’t be entirely self-serving. Don’t focus on what the person can do for you. Instead, think about ways you can help them. “Tell me, Sally, is there anyone here that I may know that would be a good introduction for you?” There’s a great book, The Go-Giver that illustrates the power of giving first, without regard to yourself and how it can benefit you in the long-term. It’s a short read, but very insightful.
Follow up, and stay connected.
A pocketful of business cards is worthless. Simply making a connection at a party or event isn’t the goal. Networking isn’t a one-and-done game. To solidify the relationship, follow up. “Sally, when we met at Spoke Friday, you’d mentioned that you’d like to meet my friend Peter. Would you like me to make an email introduction?”
If you follow up on LinkedIn, make sure to personalize the message. The default ‘I’d like to add you to my network’ message is a wasted opportunity to remind your new connection how you met, and why you think it’s mutually beneficial to stay in touch.
If you use customer relationship marketing (CRM) and marketing automation software (and who doesn’t?), add them to your database along with notes on how you met. When you find articles that they might be interested in, share them.
All work and no play?
Remember, networking doesn’t have to be about getting new business and finding connections for your next career move. I’ve met some of my best friends at networking events. Some of us have nothing in common except for our love of music, art, and sports. That’s okay. In fact, it’s more than okay; business doesn’t have to be all work all the time.
Now…I’d better get back to work.
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