Your sense of fear is rising. You feel your pulse quickening and the neckline of your shirt feeling tighter. Just the thought of it can instill fear and anxiety in even the most self-assured of individuals.
If the thought of networking makes your heart jump, you’re going to love the anxiety-soothing suggestions shared by Michael Goldberg, a speaker, author, boxer, and Knockout Networker. His approach of making networking a “we” thing rather than a “me” thing is sure to put you at ease and encourage you to have a little fun with it! Read on for my interview with Michael.
What fears do people usually mention to you when it comes to networking?
When it comes to networking I believe the fear comes from not really knowing what networking is. It’s not a course you take in college or in an MBA program. So when it comes to networking, there’s a lot of people who aren’t experienced in it because they don’t have a true understanding of what it is. They think it’s about exchanging business cards, pitching business, going to events, and that’s it. Basically, inexperienced networkers believe that networking is about selling and not “connecting”.
The fears are, “Am I doing it the right way? What if they don’t like me? What if I say or do the wrong thing? What if I come across as pushy?” The fears come from the uncertainty and what-ifs. The uncertainty tends to be minimized when you reframe networking as learning from and helping people, rather than selling a product or service.
Another element is that people don’t really know what to say. It’s the same issue when you’re at a cocktail party- you might not know how to go up to a total stranger. It’s a daunting thing to do, but if you learn how to talk to people properly, it should be less intimidating.
Wow, that’s quite a different perspective than the typical ideas of what is involved when you go to a networking event!
Not knowing how to network is part of what prevents people from engaging in it in the first place. But there’s also fear connected with entering a room full of strangers and feeling like you have to ask them for something- especially when you’re in the position of looking for a job! That’s a really daunting thing. If you’ve never had to sell yourself, and now you feel that you have to, that’s a really intimidating place to be in.
What you need to do is be really specific about what it is that you want- but remember you’re not going to ask for that upfront. If you’re in a job search, you have to take it to the next step by knowing what type of organization and profession you want, what cause area you’re passionate about. It will determine where you need to go, what you need to say, and with whom you need to say it. Once you know the specifics of what you want, the concept of networking should become easier.
Also, you’ll need to ask great questions to learn about the people you are meeting with because the conversation can’t just be about you. The focal point, at least initially, has to be about them.
Networking is not a “me” thing, it’s a “we” thing. It’s a form of collaboration. Remember, everyone in the room is there for their own reasons, not to help you land a job per se. You have to figure out what those who you meet might need first, and then over time, your discussion can shift gears and be about you.
So ideally, each person at the event should be focused on the needs of the other attendees, not their own. Ultimately, each person leaves the event with something they want or need, but not by asking someone to meet their needs first.
There are only five reasons that people network: to gain more business, to job search, for social reasons, to learn something, or to solve a very specific problem.
So first tap into what the people you meet are looking for. It’s probably a combination of those five things. Your goal should be to invite the people you meet to explore ways to help one another. Many people attend networking events just to promote a product or service, but when you focus on collaboration, you’ll find you have much better results.
How do you retrieve information from people?
You need to ask questions. You have to be prepared, in the same way an interviewer is, even though it’s not an interview. You want to have a good array of questions to choose from.
You might ask them “What is it that you’ve been doing and what are you looking to do next?” You can also ask if they’ve been to this type of event before and what brought them back. You can introduce topics that touch upon an area that you need help with, for example, “How are you marketing yourself? What’s working best for you?”
You can also simply ask them what they are looking for and why. What are they focused on? Another great question is, “If I was to meet a probable prospect or the perfect referral source for you, how would I know” What are some organizations that you’re targeting right now and why? What would you like to accomplish with this type of connection?”
There’s no set order of questions. You can also ask questions that are a little more removed from the professional arena. You might ask, “When you aren’t at events like this, what do you do for fun?” You want the conversation to not feel like an interview but fun banter. The nature of your questions should be open-ended and all about the other person. Editor’s note: Hint- just because the question is about the other person doesn’t mean their response won’t include great information and insights for you personally! Be strategic about the questions you ask.
I find that if there is a natural connection in the networking setting you’re in, the most common response afterwards is going to be “how about yourself?”
Now we are into “we” territory. And if it just feels like it’s a cool conversation, when it’s effortless and transitions well, that’s a hint that you’re creating a really good connection.
Aside from getting a new job, what are other ways that networking can be helpful/make your life easier, that people may not have thought about?
Well, what always comes to mind are the personal friendships I gained that I didn’t bargain for, when business partnerships didn’t come out of it but now we’re friends.
My brand is Knockout Networking, so let me tell you the story about that and how I became an amateur boxer, which I later used as a metaphor for my brand. Whether you’re networking or boxing, what’s required is a connection.
I spotted a guy jumping rope across at the other end of my gym. Ever see a boxer jumping rope? It’s beautiful! They are so light on their feet! So while he was jumping rope, I asked him to show me tips and tricks and after a few weeks, I came back and told him I did what he suggested. He introduced me to his trainer who is a pro boxer, and he said he could teach me to jump rope in ten minutes… and he did.
The point is the first guy became a friend and through him I met his trainer, who became a friend too, but also my trainer and confidante. I learned skills and it created a brand. This never would have happened if I hadn’t had the guts to interrupt that guy jumping rope. We would never be discussing this right now and I wouldn’t have my brand, Knockout Networking.
How DO you get up the guts to walk over and introduce yourself to a total stranger?
Not everyone is wired to go up to a total stranger and start speaking with them. I happen to be an extrovert and love striking up conversations with people, although I’m not always that outgoing. I consider myself a situational extrovert, which means I have to be in the moment. At a business networking event, I am almost always in the moment, but at a family gathering, I’m not usually all that outgoing. So you have to be comfortable in your environment.
Here’s the important point- as a job seeker, you need to become more comfortable in business networking environments, otherwise you will never make the important connections necessary to land your next opportunity.
Being an extrovert doesn’t necessarily make you good at networking and being an introvert doesn’t mean you’re a bad networker. Extroverts tend to have an easier time striking up conversations and introverts tend to have an easier time with follow-up and staying in touch. One is not better than the other- they just have different strengths and skills. As a job seeker however, don’t make this an excuse. You must get over your hurdles and simply try to overcome your fears by making your mistakes and learning from them. As an experienced networker, I take this approach myself.
Imagine you are going to a networking event with a focus on an industry that you are interested in but not familiar with or don’t have experience in. How would you prepare? What would you ask attendees?
The first thing is if you know you are going to an industry event, prepare ahead of time! Shame on you if you don’t. If you are going to an industry association event, go to the website and do your research. Come up with questions based on your research. Don’t come up with questions because you didn’t do your research. There’s a big difference. Then ask those questions, based on your research. That’s very purposeful and creates what I call “gravity”. People are gravitated towards you if you do things that attract them to you. Don’t ask questions for the sake of asking questions.
How should you follow up after a networking event?
There are four phases to networking:
- Preparation (your homework prior to an event)
- Presentation (what you say and do in real time, which includes questions and discussion)
- Follow-up (what you do after an event)
- Maintenance (staying in touch)
This is my process. Remember, networking should be a process not an event. Build relationships with people over time so the connection becomes purposeful and ongoing. It’s about the relationship.
The key to all of this is following up. The way to do it properly is to first understand that it starts in the presentation phase I mentioned earlier. For example, when speaking to somebody that I like, I may tell them that I would love to continue speaking with them but want to be mindful of their time. If they are game, I’ll ask if it makes sense to exchange business cards and make a promise to follow up over the next few days to continue our conversation to explore ways of helping one another. In this scenario, I’d introduce follow-up in the presentation phase. So now when I do follow-up there is a much better connection and a greater chance of coordinating a call or additional meeting.
Remember, it’s important to own your follow-up, which means it’s best if you make an actual “promise” to reconnect with those you meet and establish a time frame to do so. If there is no reason to follow-up or reconnect, then there is no reason to bring it up in the first place. At an event, if this is the case, when the time is right simply shake hands, say “it was nice to talk to you”, and move on. It may not always feel good, but there is no easy way around it.
What have been some of your most fun ways to network?
I actually run my own networking group with a partner. We create an activity for attendees to get warmed up in a way that’s fun and social. Sometimes I facilitate an activity called “human bingo”, which gets attendees out of their seats and talking to others in an effort to discover various matches relating to common interests. Examples include same favorite foods, movies, music, hobbies, songs, etc. The goal is to find as many matches to your different interests as possible. The point of the exercise is to help attendees meet one another, find some common ground, and have a little fun. This is my favorite exercise. Other exercise include facilitated group activities, scavenger hunts, and trivia games, all designed to engage attendees, break the ice, and put their minds at ease.
Sounds like a lot of fun! I’d like to suggest to all our readers that they check out networking events like this and get a lot of practice.
Any last thoughts you’d like to share with our readers?
There will be skeptical people who will think they don’t need to apply this information because they think they can just do their networking online. But the same rules apply! It’s a “we” thing, not a “me thing”, know exactly what you are after, and of course, it’s about them and not you.
Whether you are networking online or offline, your approach should be very similar. The rules of engagement are still focused on making connections, finding common ground, and ultimately, developing a relationship. Bear in mind no matter how incredible technology becomes, never lose sight of the power of the personal touch. It’s that personal touch that may very well land you your next career opportunity.
Thank you so much for chatting with me today, Michael! I learned a lot and hope to attend one of your networking events in the near future.
If you’re an Idealist Careers reader and would like me to report on my experience at a future networking event, please post in the comments below!