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Image: courtesy of geekculture.com
I’ll admit, I find the whole thing a drag. ‘Networking’ is one of those words that is totally abused nowadays in business.
But despite my reservations towards this type of events, over the last year I’ve participated in a dozen or so, compelled by my curiosity to solve a doubt I’ve been pondering for some time: whether these events really are any use in doing business or whether, as I suspect, most of them are more like a business cattle market, where most participants go with the sole purpose of finding customers and where hardly any serious relationships come out of it as a result.
Tips like the two below, heard from the mouths of networking ‘experts’, makes me further believe in the second option:
1. “Go loaded with cards”
According to this theory, the greater the number of cards you hand out, the greater the possibility of generating business. To do this, you need to talk to as many people as possible, without any one individual stealing too much of your time as you can miss out on the chance to continue handing out cards.
When you get home, you’ll sort all those cards you’ve received, and before throwing them in the trash, you’ll send information on your company to each of those emails. They’ll answer you with a thanks. And you’ll answer them back with a thanks.
And suddenly you’ll have 20 new companies spamming your inboxes.
2. “Sell your company in a few words”
At a networking event, people don’t have time to lose. So to help solve this, many events use the speed-dating format. You’ll try to make the most of that short time to sell your company or project. A sort of “I’ve got you here so I’m going to sell to you.” When you actually let your interlocutor speak, he or she will try to the same with you.
In reality, you’ll only listen to see if they can help you. And they’ll do the same.
If at some stage you detect that they could be a potential customer, you’ll try to impress them. They’ll probably do the same. Then, switch partners. And if I’ve seen you, well I don’t remember.
I think the spirit of networking has nothing to do with any of these tips. Improving your network of contacts doesn’t mean increasing them in number, rather optimizing them in quality. In order to get contacts, it is just as important to know how to speak as to know how to listen. Finding someone who can help is just as useful as finding someone who can help you. In short, it’s about giving value.
Why not try the following exercise: the next time someone is explaining their business to you, think of the best contact you could present them to.
Practise 69: it doesn’t matter what you expect to receive.
Joan Alvares is founding partner of Poko and lecturer at Istituto Europeo di Design