We've all been there — walking into a room full of suits, all standing around chatting. Your first instinct is to walk up to someone you already know. After two hours of superficial conversation, you find that you are no further ahead after this networking event because you only got two cards and you didn't actually meet someone you hadn't met before. Not only that, the two cards you got were from people who asked a favour of you with no promise of returning that favour. You haven't moved your knowledge or business forward at all. Traditional networking is broken. This contrived type of "networking" rarely works and ends up being a "NotWorking" event.
Traditional networking events rarely provide valuable contacts. Most of the time you will have wasted your valuable time and energy that could have been spent elsewhere. Networking should help you solve problems in your own career and business while helping others solve their problems. In true networking, you should form mutually beneficial relationships that are meaningful and that build up over the long-term.
If you find that networking just isn't working for you, here are five roadblocks you are likely hitting in your current networking efforts and strategies to overcome them.
Roadblock #1: It's contrived and forced
Networking should follow the same principles as marketing — after all, you are marketing yourself and representing your company. You want to be authentic in your efforts and you should be genuinely interested in your conversational partner.
Walking around whipping out your business cards at random people because it's "what you should be doing" is never a good marketing strategy. You would be better off staying at home and adding LinkedIn connections at random to your network.
In true networking, you should form mutually beneficial relationships that are meaningful and that build up over the long-term.
Instead, consider connecting with one or two people in depth. Find out what projects they are working on and some of the wins and challenges they are encountering. This will lay the groundwork for a possible working relationship down the road. If not, there is the possibility of connecting each other with someone who each of you can work with.
Roadblock #2: It's too salesy
If you expect to make a sale at a networking event then you've got it all wrong. A sales approach is too "me first." The focus should be on the relationship rather than the sale. Think long-term.
Go into networking events looking to help others, connect them with people in your network, and to listen. You might be surprised at what you can learn by putting others first.
Roadblock #3: You have a weak follow-up game
How familiar does this sound: You meet someone new, you swap business cards, and you add them to LinkedIn. Period. That's the end of it. When was the last time you built a meaningful relationship with someone by not talking to them?
Up your follow-up game by sending an email the next day with a useful tidbit and connection that you can follow up on again (Hello, double follow-up opportunity!). Provide value to your connections when you follow up so you can start a dialogue with them.
Roadblock #4: The focus is too broad
Most events have a wide attendee base, making it hard if not impossible to find people who have something in common with you. It's not surprising because the focus is always on quantity, not quality when it comes to attendees.
Instead, attend events specific to your industry. While there are free options out there, it is even better if you find a paid group to be a part of. While it may be a financial investment, it typically ensures a higher-quality, more engaged group of attendees.
Roadblock #5: They all have the same tired, old structure
Every event has the same four-factor sequence of monotony:
- Grab an appetizer/drink
- Have a few random conversations
- Listen to at least one speaker you may or may not be interested in
- Rush out, questioning why you attended in the first place
To get out of the cycle of networking monotony, consider joining a peer advisory board or a group where the events are structured and have a specific agenda and target group. This will save you time and provide quality contacts and relationships.
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