Imagine this. You’re at a party and everyone is coming up to you. You just signed this huge contract to play sports for your favorite team. Millions of dollars. Everyone wants to get to know you, shake your hand, hug you, take pictures with you, ask you for money, pitch you on their latest deal. Essentially, they all want something from you. How would you feel about that? Happy? Sad? Or just annoyed? Maybe all three. Would you want to stay there? I bet you don’t — after all, when people go to parties, they want to relax and enjoy themselves.
So why do you approach a conference or networking event this way? It seems these days, we always have the same conversation. It usually goes something like this:
“What do you do?”
“Well, I do X.”
“Oh great. I do Y. Sounds like you need Y to build X. I’d love to show you Y. When can we meet?”
Is this going to result in a sale? Unlikely. The person who does X is already looking for the exit, trying to find someone else to talk with. Why? Because humans don’t operate transactionally. Of course, sometimes we can. But what do you think about transactional relationships? Maybe they’re exhausting? Toxic? Both? The bottom line is that they’re not fulfilling. So instead of going against the flow of human relations, go with it.
Here are my rules for networking.
1. The Law Of Reciprocity
Have you ever gotten anything for free? What does it feel like when you do? If you’re anything like me, you feel like you owe the person something in return. For whatever reason, the world has shifted and the status quo has now gone out the window. They did something really great for you, so you either have to return the favor or keep her in very high regard. Enter the law of reciprocity. For whatever reason, most humans want to be “even,” or reciprocate a gift that’s given.
Do not give with the expectation of getting anything in return. Give freely, openly and with no strings attached. By doing so, you have likely stoked the other person’s desire to help you in return.
Listen 10 Times More Than You Talk
My parents weren’t stern, but they required obedience. There were many times that I was unjustly punished and objected to my father or mother’s tirade. They would cut off my protests and say, “You have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Listen to me.” That’s always stuck with me, and I’ve heard many variations of the same phrase. For networking, you need to listen 10 times more than you talk.
People are largely driven by their ego, and their ego is all about them. So make the conversation all about them. After all, you want the contact, right? Listen with intent. Repeating anything interesting. Ask follow-up questions. Then, after you get their contact, send an email or text asking about something related to the topics you discussed, or a relevant article.
3. Make A Connection, Not A Transaction
I know you want to bring up your actual need, but don’t. This is what everyone does. I get tons of emails, LinkedIn messages and other contacts from people asking about what they need. They don’t even say hello — just, “I need this, give it to me.” They don’t bother to get to know me or see how they can add value to me. You know what I do with those requests? I delete them.
Wait to ask for that connection, referral or business unless they ask about it first. They will find out what you do on their own time and come back to you. Or, if they don’t do their research, you can always bring it up to them when they reach out to you — which they will do eventually because you were interesting to them.
When you make connections, you’re not a transaction — you’re building the trust required to do business (or even have a friendship) together.
Remember, it’s not the hare that wins the race — it’s the tortoise, slow and steady.