By Bertrand McHenry
Never go alone. That’s my mantra. The Navy Seals work in teams; SCUBA divers go in pairs; Mormon missionaries travel by two; and smart men or women don’t wander alone at night in sketchy parts of town. You should never go to a networking event alone; it is just plain dangerous.
It is indeed dangerous because if you do go alone, you may just hover over the food table and never meet anyone new, and that is dangerous, perhaps fatal to your career or your business!
We all know the routine: Attend local events; bring plenty of business cards; engage in business cards aerobics; smile; shake those hands; and swap business cards. I want you to forget everything you have read about networking to advance your career or business and remember this, “Schmooozing is not a skill-set!” Say it out loud! Consider this a networking intervention.
Here are four things that really make a difference in networking:
- As mentioned before, never go alone. Have you heard about the Dutch Admiral Principle? This little-known story was shared in a leadership course.
“Not long ago, there were two junior officers in the Dutch Navy who made a pact. They decided that when they were at the various navy social functions, they would go out of their way to tell people what a great guy the other guy was. They’d appear at cocktail parties or dances and say, “What an unbelievable person Charlie is. He’s the best man in the Navy” or “Did you hear about the brilliant idea Dave had?”
They revealed this pact to the public the day they were both made admirals – the two youngest admirals ever appointed in the Dutch Navy.” — Corporate Cultures: The Rites and Rituals of Corporate Life by Terrence E. Deal and Allan A. Kennedy.
Their little secret influenced the perceptions of others. Their peers saw them as leaders, as doers. According to Deal & Kennedy, it aided the process of what they call hero-making. They go on to explain that “believing is seeing” not the other way around. So, many times perception really is reality.
If you cannot bring yourself to be an Admiral, then do a light version by inviting others to join you at the event. With social media, it is easy to connect with others. So, put the word out on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook to figure out who else is attending before the event. Agree to meet there and make it fun and inclusive by using apps such as Waze.
- Do not bring business cards. What? That’s right, and here’s why: You want to stand out from the crowd, be memorable, and brand yourself? Everyone brings business cards. Collect from others. Leaving your business cards at the office forces you to be creative in your conversations, and you are there to begin forming relationships. A business card exchange sometimes short circuits that activity. Do you really need physical cards when you can “bump” a smartphone and share your data? Or, just bring a pen. Write on your hand. But having no cards has never hurt my business and it has saved at least a tree branch. It also forces you to do something fairly revolutionary…form a relationship! Who knew?
- Meet the event organizer. The person who put the event together knows a lot of people. Learn about what they do. If you’re shy, tell them the truth. They might surprise you and introduce you to some cool and helpful people. One other item about this – ask them how you can help them make their event a success. Can you greet visitors; work a sign in table? This can ingratiate you to the organizer but it also puts you in the “Host” or “Servant’ state of mind.
- Blog about the event. Don’t have a blog? Get one, or share it on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. Don’t like to write? Hire a ghostwriter. Head to MediaBistro or Guru or Elance. Share the positives of your experience. Mention some of the people you met. Express appreciation for all the details the event planner kept in mind for the group’s benefit. Before the next event, email it to the planner as well as a few of the people you met.
All of these ideas are meant to keep you from being isolated or alone during a networking event, which is half the battle. The purpose is to meet new people, but just as importantly, to serve people. These ideas will hopefully force you into a new pattern and out of your comfort zone, which ideally will lead to new business relationships. You may be nervous but I know this it is a lot safer for the life of your business!
Bertrand McHenry is the best selling author of “The Only Business Book You’ll Ever Need.” In addition, he is the President/Owner of The Referral Institute of Houston, President of MainStreetChamber Houston Bay Chapter, & the host of “Business Builders Radio” CBS Radio TALK 650AM.