The currency of real networking is not greed but generosity.
—Keith Ferrazzi, founder, CEO, Ferrazzi Greenlight
I hate networking. Well, I should qualify my statement. I hate what networking has become in many instances. As a result, I have altogether stopped going to self-proclaimed “exclusive networking events,” because they yield such poor results and waste my precious time.
Instead of quality experiences that facilitate exchanges and lead to business relationships, many networking events are nothing more than a mini-convention of extremely self-centered people. You know these narcissistic types. Often they are the professional networkers who are dressed to draw too much attention, reek of disingenuousness, and heap their business cards on you before you can say hello. When they speak to you, the subtext of everything they say is, “I am the greatest! This is why you should buy my product or service. Now, off to the next person.” If I find myself in a conversation with such an individual, I watch the mouth move, but all I hear is, “Me, me, me.” Some may fool you for a second by asking about your company, but then it’s back to, “I, I, I.” If you have the courage after ten, fifteen, or twenty minutes of their shameless monologues—time you’ll never get back—you just leave them. They may not even notice you’ve left.
When done correctly and effectively, networking isn’t about you. Rather, it’s about what you can do to help others improve their businesses. Imagine if business owners asked you the following questions at a networking event instead of talking aimlessly about themselves: “What is the best type of customer for your business?” “If I come across someone in my network, how would I know that this person is a good customer for you?” “What specifically can I do to help your business grow?” What a difference! The likelihood of you doing business directly with someone you just met is small. However, the likelihood of you being able to help this person to find customers within your network is much greater. This attitude of service rather than self-service has made a huge difference in my business. In fact, I use this approach all the time. It works during networking events and other situations.
Two great benefits come with this paradigm shift. First, the discussion gets right to how a relationship can help both of you grow. Little time is wasted on pretense. Most people will be shocked by your focus and unselfish willingness to help with exactly what they need, and they will naturally catch on and return the favor. If not, you can always tell them how they can help you. Second, this approach builds rapport faster than any other method. People are more inclined to trust those who are willing to help and eventually do.
Most people starting a business are especially excited about networking. The idea seems like the smart thing to do in order to grow a business. However, after a while, many discover that the main result is a stack of useless business cards. Some people end up like me, disillusioned by networking.
I am being a bit extreme, though. I am not encouraging you to avoid networking events entirely, but if you choose to attend them, get the most out of your experience by assuming an attitude of service. Ultimately, it will come back to you multiple times.