Unless we learn how to harness it.
During my freshman orientation, three years ago, the school made a big push to get us to network. But the way they got us to do that was ridiculous.
Ok, now everybody turn and face the person behind you. Introduce yourself with your name, major, and a fun fact about yourself. ~Orientation leaders
Reality check. I don’t remember that person at all. I don’t remember their name nor their major nor their fun fact. In fact, people hate fun facts.
Thinking that networking would get better after orientation–once we weren’t all awkward freshmen–I attended other networking events, professional and student alike. There, I learned that
Most people network the wrong way
Networking is not exchanging business cards. It’s not developing an RFID card to share with NFC capabilities. It’s not going around the room like an overstimulated puppy and making sure that everyone in the room has a business card in their hand. That’s a waste of effort, time, and valuable earth resources.
Here’s the thing, networking isn’t just meeting people in a room, as many people erroneously believe. Meeting people in a room is what creates an opportunity to network, in no way is it networking itself. Some might say that meeting people with the express purpose of handing out business cards in a room is the easiest way to network.
Let me let you in on a little secret, passed on to me by a mentor.
Your cards don’t matter. Theirs do.
Yes, you should have a well-designed business card to share with others. But your getting a card in their hand accomplishes nothing but giving them a new colorful piece of paper to store with other colorful pieces of paper.
As Business Insider says:
Collecting business cards is better than handing them out.
Do you go to networking events armed with a stack of business cards? We have been instructed that giving out our cards is the best way to make connections. The secret to effective networking, however, is to make sure you collect business cards of those people you meet. This way you can control the follow up. You give away your card, you give away the control. After you go to a networking event, write notes on the back of the cards about the conversation you had with this person and potential ways to follow up.
The true value of a business card lies with its ability to serve as a ticket you exchange for the real value: their card and the conversation that follows.
Talk, Take, Touch
So what, ideally, would be the best approach to take? Well, the first thing is to take a page out of lessons we all learned in elementary school.
Stop. Look. Listen. In this case: arrive in the room, look around to gauge surroundings, listen to conversations to find an appropriate step-in point.
This is also known as the point where most people mess up. The point where you begin conversation and hand the person your card. Talk about them: what they do, what they are working on, etc. Then, based on the conversation, get deeper. There no advice here simply because the conversation can take so many twists and turns that any advice that I or anyone else gives is invalidated as soon as you say “Hello.”
Two notes. Not many notes and certainly not paragraphs. A pair. Jot down the one thing that stuck out to you and what you think stuck out to them. Remember them both, you’ll be needing them later.
Don’t forget to take their card. It has their contact information, their title, their company, and can serve to jog your memory. If you can, write down your notes on the back of the card you have. Just make sure that there is a way to link the information in the future.
This is the piece where few people tread–and the most valuable piece of advice I have ever received. Reach out and stay out. Common advice is to contact people within 48 hours of a networking event, sound logic.
Let me let you in on another secret
Nothing I’ve said so far is new advice. In fact, this is all basic stuff that you need to get to the point where you can even begin to handle the next step. It’s surprising, it makes so much common sense but very few people ever suggest it, and fewer people heed it:
Stay in touch and make yourself useful.
As my mentor once said:
It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you
Remember that note card with information about interests? That card is very useful when first reaching out 48 hours after the event but is even more useful in the following forever. In short, provide information.
The Law of Giving
I call it the Law of Giving: give people information you come across in your day-to-day-life, whether you find it while reading your favorite blogs (like Why Mondays Are Cool, right?), business journals, or come across it serendipitously.
The Law of Giving comes with the Corollary of Giving: If information you come across in your day to day life is not useful to a certain person, odds are high that that person won’t be very useful as a networking tool.
The Corollary of Giving comes with the Exception of Giving: If a person is a CEO or otherwise important person, they are useful regardless of their field.
And the Exception of Giving comes with the Legal Disclaimer of Giving: don’t give away sensitive information. Just don’t.
A Waste of Time
The way most people do it, it really is. The way to improve isn’t to master so-called “rules of the game.” or to analyze every little detail about every little interaction.
It’s to treat every interaction like it matters by maintaining useful (for them) contact.
Like what I just wrote? You’ll love lots more. Follow me on Twitter and subscribe to the blog to get more rambling musings in both 140 and infinite character form.
Feature photo by Notre Dame University