“Connection points” and “synergy” are terms often bantered about when it comes to networking. Heck, there are easily 12 other overused buzzwords I could list here. There are whole books, blogs, video series, and courses based on the Art of Networking.
At its core networking sounds so easy: The idea that you can help them and they can help you and if we work together we all grow bigger and stronger. Go into the room, business cards in your pocket, shake lots of hands, and network. Just do it, fool.
If only it was really that easy.
Many of us (myself included) have not been trained in small talk. We might think we have an elevator speech put together but when the time comes we stumble. We might think going into a room full of strangers will make us more extroverted, but in reality it makes us cave in even more. As an introvert myself, I struggle with networking all the time.
Networking it tough. And it’s okay to say you’re not good at it. I’m not either. It’s the rare soul that is, and it’s from them we can learn. So I talked with a few people that I consider extremely good at the Art of Networking and asked for one simplified idea from each.
Here are their thoughts, and some homework for us:
Think beyond our own industry. Example: we are in the wine industry, which means we work with retailers and restaurants. And every retailer and restaurant has a handyman that they call to fix little things that go wrong. Here’s a great moment for simple networking.
Homework: Get the name and number of a handyman from an account, call them and see if they want more business (they do). Then spread the word to other accounts. “He’s the guy who fixes stuff at Chez Vino, heard he’s great at what he does.” This gets you in the habit of being the connection point, of being the one with the info.
Part of networking is simply being that connection point.
Write, memorize, and perfect your elevator speech. Pretend the elevator is only going one or two floors (keep it as short as possible). Practice it. Write it down. It should have two parts: the company you represent, and what you do for the company. Simple as that. Hone it, memorize it, work on it. Practice in front of a mirror. Deliver it to a spouse. Video yourself doing it. Repetition is key. Practice it some more. This was a the advice of a person I know who nails it every time in a room full of people. And what does he sell? Cable TV and phone service. If he can do it with that, we can for sure do it with wine.
Homework: after having your speech perfected, try it out. Find people. You can be more forthright and confident than before because you will know what you’re saying right out of the gate. Seek out uncomfortable situations with strangers where you can practice the speech. Then rework it again and try it again.
Part of networking is simply knowing what to say.
Do light touch follow ups, because most people don’t. That big stack of random business cards on your desk? Time to do a little follow up with them. It doesn’t have to be any more than a fast email. You can even reach out to those from months ago. “Hey, quick email here and a bit late but wanted to say it was great to meet you. Let’s do our best to keep in touch. Would like to continue our conversations at some point.” Simple as that.
Homework: spend a half hour grabbing random business cards and sending out quick emails. Celebrate with a good class of wine.
Part of networking is the simple act of reaching out.
As is true for so much in business, overcomplicating things only slows us down. Keep networking simple, consistent, and a priority and it will come far more naturally over time.