I don’t like networking events.
I know that networking is supposed to be (said in official sounding deep voice):
‘one of the essential tools of growing a business’ but still I don’t like ‘em.
I have asked around and I can’t find anyone who does. There is that whiff of the first day at school, feeling exposed and hyper aware of how you are walking and how casually you are clinging onto your coffee.
And still, people flock to networking events like they carry the secret to everlasting youth or even better…free money. So, why are networking events rubbish?
Nearly all networking events are held in a ‘corporate’ (read soulless) conference room off an A road. I’m sure it’s convenient for the punters to scamper back to the office once the tepid tea has been drunk and the chit chat is all over.
My problem is that breakfast clubs (think flabby undercooked bacon on a cheap white roll) start at an ungodly hour, which means being up-and-out the door by 6am. That kind of eye watering early start should only be reserved for holidays. At least you get to reward yourself with a socially acceptable 8am G & T in the airport bar.
I love to talk. I tell my wife and friends what a great talker I am at least once a week. But with the best will in the world, it’s impossible to speak to more a handful of people at an event. And that’s if I am pumped full of caffeine and really, really on it.
As soon as you see someone you know it’s a dash for the comfort of familiar company and half the session is spent catching up on gossip, how busy everyone is and bitching about the rancid bacon.
If you want to speak to people who you already know then meet them for lunch. All the benefits of a getting out of your workspace for a chat without costing you an entrance fee or sitting through any power point(less) presentations!
While we’re on the subject, speaking at a networking event is the perfect chance to kill all those birds with a single well-written stone…Just make it interesting enough that even people it doesn’t relate to aren’t counting the sauce packets on the table for something to do. Also…practice.
Public speaking can be tricky for people who aren’t used to it, but if you’re nervous up there it makes make me nervous sat down here. Try to remind yourself that it’s just speaking, we do it every day.
To the rest of the speakers out there – be brief, be entertaining (but not corny or overblown), make your point and get the hell offstage. We want to learn something interesting and actually take seomthing home from the event. Don’t expect me to read the 15 bullet points you sent whizzing in from the right of the screen, I’m probably checking my emails. Im a great audience (goes along with my ability to natter) but only if you’re not boring.
Before I get a kicking from all the lovely people that spend their valuable time organising Networking events I want to clear up a point: Like Dolly Parton songs… the odd one or two are belters. They get the mix of people just right, knowing who needs an introduction, nail the food and don’t faff about with gimmicks. Those perfect planners get a double thumbs up from me. Keep it up.
Of course getting out and speaking to other entrepreneurs has benefits; staving off the lethargy and isolation of working alone in an empty house with the temptations of Jeremy Kyle or the ironing. There is a (small) chance that you will stumble across that perfect connection who can unlock a world of possibilities for your business.
What is more likely is that you could meet a bunch of lovely people, have an alright time and persuade yourself that you didn’t strike it rich this time but you’d better keep going back. Throwing good breakfasts after bad.
Don’t give up
I try to see these events for what they truly are: a way to grow a support network. Everyone needs a group of like-minded people around them who can talk on a level, understand each other’s issues and be there for each other.
It’s incredibly, insanely, irrationally hard to run your own business. Everyone loves to spout the failure figures. However, learning to ask questions, teaching each other while building communities can help to prevent your business becoming one of those statistics.
How to win at Networking
- Spend some time to find the event that suits you and your business. Mine would serve alcohol, never start at 7am and maybe include an Elvis impersonator
- Dont accept poor food if it’s crap. If the organiser is a professional then they will appreciate all feedback, if given with tact
- Be genuine with the people who you meet there. Don’t launch straight into your elevator pitch, it’s boring and people can see through it. Just ask questions and try to really listen if they give you a genuine answer.
- If it’s a good event, recommend it to one of those random people who connected with you on LinkedIn. Ta da! You now have a new person to talk and the event grows. Winner!