Career Advice

Ignore What They’ve Told You About Networking

By Joshua Danton Boyd March 26th, 2014

The first proper networking event I ever attended was about eighteen months ago. A National Freelancers Day event in Brighton was billed as a celebratory night of free drinks and food, but I was just picturing business cards flying at me from every direction while I attempted to convince everyone I was the best writer in the room.

Naturally, the nerves took over. I didn’t know a lot about networking, so I did what anyone would’ve done in my situation: I asked Google for advice. That was a mistake. Most sites suggested I create a well-rehearsed elevator pitch, sell myself to everyone, and stay away from the alcohol. It was like when you search online for information about a cough and wind up convinced you have a terminal illness.

What I now know is you should ignore everything people tell you about networking — except me.

Shut down the elevator pitch

I was first introduced to the term “elevator pitch” when working at a hotel that hosted a weekly business breakfast. A bunch of local business types would show up, eat some food, and then walk around reeling off their polished pitches to each other.

Intuitively, this approach might make sense, but after talking to a few attendees, I discovered no one was actually absorbing information. In general, people have a habit of waiting to speak rather than listening to the person addressing them, but this issue is amplified at networking events.

By definition, an elevator pitch isn’t tailored specifically to the person you’re talking to. Each person has a different business and varying interests, so a bland, one-size-fits-all speech is going to struggle to pique everyone’s interests. Most people will zone out and then jabber about themselves when you’re done.

You want to tailor what you say to each person you meet so your pitch is relevant. You want to hone in on the specific skills you can offer new acquaintances. This strategy gives you the flexibility that an elevator pitch lacks. Not only will people see you in a better light, but they’ll also retain more of what you have to say.

But how do you tailor yourself?

Listen more than you speak

Another common tip is to get yourself moving around the room and talking to as many people as possible. Apparently, this means you’ll leave an impression on more people and increase your chances of being hired or, at very least, remembered. But based on what I’ve said above, do you really think this is the case? Talking to everyone quickly may mean you’ll see more faces, but it doesn’t guarantee that more people will remember yours.

Pay attention to what other people are saying and don’t just prepare to speak once they’re done with their piece. This will give you the information you need to tailor what you say, and it will also tell you whether they’re worth pitching anyway.

For example, at a recent event, I was with a group of five people, listening to a local business owner talk about his company. He made some passing mentions about his site’s SEO and then made a joke about never updating his blog. While other writers in the group missed the connection, I caught up with the business owner about how blogging can help his SEO issues. By the next week, I was writing his blog for him.

Don’t feel like the entire purpose of a networking event is to tell everyone how amazing you are. Pay attention to other people’s problems and give them your solutions. Nobody is really interested in how great your service is; they just want to how it will help them.

Go on, have a drink

There are plenty of networking events that will offer booze. Many people will tell you to avoid having a drink for obvious reasons — no one wants to throw up in front of potential clients. In regards to the business breakfast described above, I would agree — unless you want people to think you have a problem.

But generally, I think having a drink at a networking event is a great idea. It can loosen you up and make it easier to get on with people. Having a good night with someone can do wonders when trying to forge a professional connection. Not everything has to be serious when it comes to business events. Feel free to actually have fun.

Remember: Not everyone in attendance will be some slick salesperson. Plenty of attendees will be nervous. Seeking them out can make the whole night a lot less intimidating.

Of course, when it comes to booze, you know your personal limits, and it can be a bit of a risk to indulge. On the other hand, I know one person who has made an incredible amount of sales for his company by leading potential clients on a debauched late-night booze-up. For the right situation, it’s the perfect weapon. Just don’t be afraid to leave it holstered after a few beers.

Joshua Danton Boyd is a copywriter who likes to drink at business events, but is also an attentive listener. He currently works in-house for Crunch Accounting.

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