Networking revisited: Generosity and “working the room”

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Networking can be effective for business development, but several variables will influence your success.

Some years ago, I reviewed Tim Klabunde‘s brief book, Network Like an Introvert, in part because I know Tim quite well (through, well, networking with him through the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) where, it seems, we both met practicing the same thing.)

That is, the best way to network is to think about the other persons’ needs before your own, which — when both are practicing the model at the same time — can result in a rather amazing and somewhat awkward exchange:  “How can I do something for you?” as you reverse it on the other person:  “Oh, you don’t need to do anything, I’m glad to help. But is there something else I can do for you?”

Of course, over the years, we’ve done plenty of things to help each other out, none of which drew direct business to each other’s organizations, but still benefited both of our enterprises indirectly.  (Tim’s initiatives led me to develop a largely undeveloped title, The Design and Construction Report — dcnreport.com —  but that led to the establishment of a much more successful and truly viable Canadian counterpart, Canadian Design and Construction Report — cadcr.com — our national Canadian AEC e-magazine.)

Nevertheless, even though the “give rather than seek to gain” approach to networking makes networking events much more palatable to me than before I discovered the magical elixer, I still find them to be downright intimidating and don’t really look forward to the experience. As well, the practical aspects of networking still have challenges — how do you know where to connect, and where not to even start the giving process.

This Wall Street Journal article, The Smartest Ways to Network at a Party, offers some suggestions on “working the room” to at least get to the first stage.

The cues to finding allies in a crowded room aren’t obvious. Those in groups talking all at once and laughing might look like great people to know. Often, however, they’re sharing a private joke or memories of past experiences, and “they’re having way too much fun” to welcome an outsider, says Anne Baber, co-owner of Contacts Count, a networking consultant from Newtown, Pa., that provides training for attorneys at Ober Kaler.

A tight circle of three to five people standing face-to-face in a closed O, maintaining eye contact and talking intently, might look intriguing, but they may be solving a pressing problem, making them too busy to greet someone new.

The most promising group may be lined up loosely, with gaps between participants, “just sort of muddling along, trying to have a conversation,” Ms. Baber says. They’re likely to welcome a newcomer, especially someone who can loosen them up.

There is another level to the problem, however, and that relates to the nature and character of the group where you are trying to network.  The circumstances are obviously much different if you know everyone in the room, than if you are a complete stranger; if the group consists of peers, competitors, potential clients (or all of them), and the background ambience — loud music, noise and distractions make it much harder to make the connections.

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