At 18 years old, I was the youngest kid in Business Networking International (BNI). I hated networking. And I felt some people were filled with sh*t.
But I was taught that you can't be an introvert if you want to be in business.
The world rewards extroverts.
So, as a young kid, out of high school – attending one of the many networking events held by BNI – I felt very uncomfortable.
- What do I say to these people?
- Shake their hands and tell them about my business?
- Squeeze into the loudest group and try to be on the same level?
Why are some people so natural?
You've seen these naturals. They're talking to everybody, moving from group to group.
What is their secret?
- Are they born extroverts?
- Maybe they've achieved everything in life?
- Are they faking it?
- Maybe they don't feel nervous, ever?
Here's the truth. They probably did networking more than you – and learned the skill.
You don't have to be born extroverted to be good at networking. Introverts can be good at networking and successful too.
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking – is a great book that explores this.
But let's get back to the point.
Learning how to network, and talk to anybody is a learnable skill. It's something you should take seriously because your chances of success will be higher, the more people you build relationships with.
How to talk to anybody.
OK, so you're walking into an event. Your hands are sweaty. You look around, hoping to find someone you know.
Sh*t. You don't know anybody here.
1 – Know that most people are equally as nervous.
It was the first day of college. I sat down next to a serious-looking guy during the first lecture, said "Hi" to him, and shook his hand. Somehow, we became good friends.
Years later, he admitted to me that he was feeling super nervous that day. He was lucky I said hi to him!
The truth is people you see around an event are usually just as nervous as you. They're just like you! So you're doing them a favor by talking to them.
What a relief! Someone's here to talk to me, so I don't have to stand around by myself.
Here's a script that I'll use when approaching a stranger at an event.
Hi, my name is Reuben. What brings you to this event?
2 - We're all biologically selfish creatures.
How do you feel about someone who only talks about himself? We hate that right?
Yet, at networking events – that's what many of us do.
"Oh yeah, my company does X & Y."
"We were awarded and featured in Z magazine"
Nobody cares! Especially the person you've just shaken hands with.
People care about themselves more. They're thinking about what's for dinner, and not about what you've achieved. So stop talking about yourself.
Instead, be interested in the people you meet. Ask them questions, listen, and engage. This gets them talking, eases any awkwardness, and gets people to feel comfortable with you.
3 - Don't go chasing for business.
Most people attend networking events like cold-blooded sharks
They hunt for potential business. They avoid talking to people whom they think will give them no benefit. They pitch their services and products non-stop.
These guys are hunters – the most unpleasant people to meet at an event.
People will not remember what you say or do. But they'll definitely remember how you made them feel.
Instead, think of yourself as a connector. Who can you connect with the person you just met?
Master networkers are people who focus on giving first before receiving.
4 - Ask for advice.
Part of successful networking is meeting the right people. But don't go up to them with a pitch.
Most people have a strong shield up against sales pitches. So when you start pitching, they start shutting off.
A way to lower their shields is by asking for advice. Nobody ever declines giving an advice. Generally, people want to help other people.
When you meet someone influential, ask them for their best advice. It could be advice for your business, career, or strategy. Use that opportunity to build a relationship with them.
Date before you marry.
5 - Small talk is important.
Small talk. Ughh.
"Can we get straight to the point?"
Wouldn't it be easier to just get straight to the important part – and move on?
Let me tell you a story about my friend who is a business development manager at a courier company. He'd go into conversations with any stranger and talk like they were close friends. Once when he joined me for dinner with some of my wife's friends around. A few months later, I found out that one of my wife's friends did business with him.
He was so socially skilled that he was able to make people around him feel comfortable and in awe. He was respectful, and his social skills brought out the best version of himself, making him irresistible.
Don't skip the small talk. Starting small talk is as simple as using some conversation openers, like:
- "Hey, don't think we've met. My name is Reuben."
- "Good morning. How are you doing today?"
- "So, how are you friends with the speaker?"
Bonus: How to exit a conversation.
A mistake in networking is staying too long with a group. To maximize your time, you'd want to move to different groups and meet more people.
One of the best ways to exit a conversation is to introduce them to a person you know.
Hey Emily, you mentioned that you want to work with fitness personal trainers. I'd love to introduce you to Aren. He's the founder of KD Trainer, a personal training company.
Emily, wouldn't say no to that. Given that you're actually helping her connect with other people.
Introduce the other person and then say, "Great, I'll leave you two to talk some more."
Want to connect with more people – and grow your business?
Join Underdog Advertising Conference on 12th May 2023. You'll meet some of the best minds in advertising and network with other entrepreneurs.