I never thought I’d be telling anyone how attending hundreds of networking events has enriched both my career and personal life exponentially.
I met my best friend at a networking event. I’ve found multiple personal and professional mentors over the years. I blossomed in my previous marketing role due to these in-real-life professional meetups. Networking has enabled me to build an incredible community. I never could have imagined the career and social circles I have today without networking.
When I went to my first networking event, I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know what to expect, and I certainly didn’t anticipate how big a role it would play in my career. All I know is this: networking is the No. 1 thing that has made me successful. Here are three things I learned along the way, and wish I had known when I first started networking.
The 20/20/20 Rule
I attended approximately six months of networking events before I learned about the 20/20/20 rule. This is when you are in a one-on-one situation and trying to get to know another professional better. You let the other party talk about themselves for 20 minutes, you talk about yourself for 20 minutes, and then you talk about how you can help each other for the final 20 minutes.
This keeps things fair and balanced, so both parties benefit from the contact. If your conversation is not balanced, neither one of you will gain anything, and you’ve wasted your time. Had I known this when I started, I wouldn’t have wasted so much time with a man who only allowed the spotlight to shine on himself. I would have put more energy into interactions that showed more promise with more generous people.
A good rule of thumb for anyone in business is to listen more than you speak, whether that’s in a one-to-one talk or at general networking meetings.
Showing Up Is What Counts
Consistency is one of the most important things in the business world. Showing up repeatedly is the only way you can build meaningful relationships since the process takes time. Showing up week-after-week means you are serious about your business. It also shows others you are disciplined, committed, and not looking for shortcuts.
Most people like to do business with people they like and trust. All of these attributes feed into the trust equation. I was pleasantly surprised when I would miss an event, and several people would not only notice but also reach out to ask if I was okay. This is what it means to build meaningful relationships.
On a related note, I recommend attending a group for a minimum of three events before you decide the group isn’t for you. This gives you enough interaction and time to see if you hit it off with the members and to make sure any less-than-stellar moments were not just someone, or the group, having an off day. Because that happens.
If you yourself are having an exceptionally bad day and don’t have the energy to pull it off, definitely pick another day or meeting. You only have one shot to make a first impression, so make it a good one when you are ready and pumped for the opportunity.
Always be prepared when you go into a networking event. Create a 30-second elevator pitch at the ready for you and your business. This is when you can succinctly and quickly tell someone what you do and what you are about in 30 seconds or less. This not only saves time for both parties, but it also helps others remember you. (This does take practice, so don’t worry if you don’t feel 100% prepared for your first networking event.)
Just remember nearly everyone feels uncomfortable walking into a new crowd or talking to new people. That’s completely normal. If it helps to ease your nerves, volunteer to work at the welcome table or anywhere else that the group needs help. Volunteering your time is a great way to begin that relationship, and it gives you something to do while you are talking to others.
You can also scan the room when you first arrive at a networking event to see how people are interacting and to get a lay of the land. Then you can introduce yourself to a few people and ask lots of questions. Most people like to talk about themselves, so perhaps make a list of five or so questions that you can ask each person. This will help you make small talk with strangers.
Build more business relationships
Overall, networking can lead to more and better business relationships. It’s as important as a daily workout or regular accounting activities. I never would have had as much success in my career if I hadn’t learned how to network effectively.
Carolyn Chynoweth is marketing manager for Emler Swim School, an award-winning swim school with 26+ locations in Texas, Kansas and Oregon. When she started her career, she didn’t know she’d turn into a veteran networker, attending hundreds of events. Originally from Florida, she now calls the Lone Star State home. Catch her work on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or YouTube.
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