Maybe you’re shy. Or hate loud bars. Or hate loud people. There are plenty of reasons to dread going to the next chamber of commerce networking happy hour, and though no amount of free Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay will make awkward networking events more tolerable, here is the single most important tip to make networking happy hours better for everyone involved.
Stop networking at happy hour and start connecting.
It sounds counter-intuitive, but Scott Gerber, author of the new book Superconnectors, would say that “networking” is what’s wrong in the world. “A networker, at least in our definition, is a short-term transactional thinker, trying to make value for themselves at every single moment,” Gerber says. “They are only out with one lens and that is personal gain, personal ambition.”
But isn’t that the whole point of networking happy hours? Meeting new people that can help strengthen your network? Yes and no.
The difference is intention, Gerber says. Ask yourself, are you meeting people, not because you’re looking to build a relationship with them, but because you’re looking at who they know or what they have that can help you? Are you working the room to collect cards and deal out your own to make an impression and get a foot in the door? It’s the end goal versus the journey that gets you there.
But that lesson has to be learned.
As a young journalist in my 20s, I was supremely guilty of this. Not because I’m a networking jerk, but because I didn’t know better.
I remember one year that I was nominated for a Dallas Press Club Katie award, I attended the annual banquet in awe because it meant real reporters deemed my work good enough to be a finalist. (I later learned the Katies were caught up in some judging controversy, when the Dallas Business Journal discovered several competitions weren’t judged by a panel as advertised, but rather the president herself. My nom still counts, right?)
With the confidence of a fictional Lois Lane, I went to introduce myself to a legend of Dallas investigative journalism, who was the stalwart columnist for the Dallas Observer when I was a 20-year-old intern there. I never met him in my summer there since he worked off-site, but that didn’t stop me from talking to him with a faux familiarity of two old colleagues as I handed him my business card and strutted away. The man had no idea who I was, so I wouldn’t blame him if he really did pitch my card into a nearby trash can, like my husband said he did, but quickly recanted with an unconvincing “just kidding.”
I was a bad networker.
In that moment, I was a stereotypical opportunist working the room, collecting and dealing out business cards, but those cards don’t really mean much if the person isn’t willing to take your calls because all you did was schmooze and move on. The difference between networkers and people who really connect boils down to simple, genuine connection.
“Connecting is about finding out what the other person needs and how you can help,” Gerber writes in Superconnectors. “It doesn’t have to be a huge thing, just something that benefits the person you’re connecting with. A successful connector knows there’s more value in leaving an event with one new friend or acquaintance that you can develop a mutually beneficial relationship with than contact info for 50 people you didn’t get to know.”
Tips for the next happy hour:
First off, Gerber says get yourself in a connector mindset. Think about who will be there and what needs they might have before you go in. Having thoughtfulness and intentionality will go a long way here.
If you’re headed to a real estate mixer or chamber business grand opening, for example, offer to introduce newcomers to others you know in the room. This tip will win you favor with just about anyone.
(And if Candy Evans is there, definitely introduce them to her. Or let them know the treasure trove of insider information about North Texas written by the fine folks here at CandysDirt.com.)
Lastly, if you’re attending a large industry conference, research who’ll be there and invite them to connect ahead of time. Even better, before the conference, curate a small get together with an eclectic mix of people who’d enjoy meeting one another, Gerber says. For example, invite an interesting colleague, a few acquaintances and a few people you’d like to connect with.
“Say, ‘I’m doing a small group event, something to convene people who are exceptional to meet others doing interesting things,’” Gerber says. “Now you are the sphere of influence for this group, helping others meet too.” Gerber gives some pretty in-depth strategies for a group event for my Secret to My Success podcast (at 22:01), but the essence of connection remains. Be helpful in connecting others.
Naturally, not every networking event is going to be a home run or worthy of your time. The key to success is putting your best foot forward by really examining who you are, so you can be your best for others.
“You’re not going to ‘win’ every time, nor should you, and you’re not going to have every single relationship pan out to be valuable. They’re not going to be,” Gerber says. “But if you always have the lens of being a thoughtful, self-aware individual, you will win, and that’s the difference.”
Have a subject or idea for a future “Secret to My Success” column? Contact Shelby Skrhak at firstname.lastname@example.org.