From Introvert to the Master of Networking - The Story of a Few Beers

in Business, Culture by Piotr on November 10th, 2015

Recently I was networking a lot. Visiting Berlin and London with my friend Damian was really challenging. Running from one meeting to another is hard especially when it's hot and you have to spend most of the time in the Tube.

But going to scheduled appointments is one thing and attending meetups going around is another. Usually, we spend a couple of days in the big capital cities, so we have excellent opportunities to meet & greet new people.

In this post, I would like to share my experience with networking and show you how to network efficiently.

What is networking?

Networking is a way of expanding your personal contacts by talking to people. If you want to get to know people for personal or business reasons, networking will help you. In this article, I will focus on the business side of networking. But some of the hints I will show you will also be good for creating personal relationships.

Places for networking

As a guy working for almost 15 years in the IT industry, it's easy for me to find places where I can meet people who are either interested in what I do or somehow useful for me in my business.

Most of the time I attend some meetups - you can find a lot of them on Meetup.com or Eventbrite, just remember to pick the proper city. Attend meetings where you think you could find your target.

The Plan

Yeah, you have to have a plan. I mean, you could just go to a meeting unprepared and find people who accidentally will turn out to be helpful. It happens. Sometimes this works even better - you are relaxed and meet people in a more natural way, but the question is: Is this your goal?

Most of the time when you want to focus on networking, you better have a plan. Try to:

 

    • choose a topic - think what you need exactly and focus on the target, two or three groups of people (like investors, marketing experts, project managers, developers) you wanna meet.

 

 

    • choose events wisely - if you need an investor for your newly created startup, go to the meetings where you can find one.

 

 

    • contact people before the event - mentioned Meetup as well as Eventbrite will allow you to see actual people who will attend the meeting. Try to google them or find them directly on LinkedIn or Twitter. Contact them and say that you will be on the event and would love to talk to them (try to be polite in doing that - no one likes spammers, but don't give up if someone won't answer).

 

 

    • prepare a pitch - a pitch is just a couple of sentences about who are you and what you do e.g. "Hi, my name's Piotr. I'm the CEO of Desmart company where we build web and mobile applications. I am looking for people who would like to create a great startup with our Team". It's easy, it's pretty much rememberable. Try to learn that (even by heart) and practice on everyone you'll meet. The pitch gives you an ability to open a conversation and will give your interlocutor some information on what you do.

 

 

  • it’s about them, not you - always ask people what they do, ask deeper questions about their profession and ask them: “Is there any way I can help you with my skills, connections and experience?” At the end of the day it’s all about helping each other and building relationships based on valuable cooperation.

 

Be specific!

As with the pitch - your talk should be specific. People don't want to listen to your life story. Don't get me wrong, it's probably a good story (is it? ;) but try to minimize it and focus on telling what you do and how someone can help you.

On the other hand, don't forget that you talk to real people! Don't omit small talk! Balance it when you feel that someone starts being anxious and is willing to jump right to the point. Some people need more time, some less. Some even think it's a waste of time. I don't. You don't have to talk about the weather. If the networking sessions is organized after a meetup you can ask about what the person thinks about the keynote speaker. Was it good? Does he agree on what the speaker said? It's a start of a nice conversation.

Then you can go ahead and say what you do.

I'm bored, leave me alone...

As I said, try to avoid being too talkative when you speak. It happens to me also from time to time. I start talking and talking and… talking. You have to observe and react. Either just go away and move to another person, or change the subject, ask some specific questions. But for God’s sake - don't let the other person look like this:

Source: giphy.com

Grab a beer

There are a lot of meetups that offer some kind of alcohol on the spot. Usually it's a beer and a pizza, but you can find wine also. You might be a shy person (as I am) and that first contact can be really hard for you. If I don't know someone and there's a beer, I usually grab one. First - you have your hands full so there's no problem of what to do with them ;), second - after half a beer you start relaxing and the conversation is starting to get smooth.

Try to avoid drinking too much beer though. I've seen people after a couple of beers trying to tell you about what they do - it's not a pretty sight and you don't want to be seen like that by other.

There are a lot of events going on in pubs (in London in particular), where people gather just to network. From my experience, it's easier to start talking to someone there, as people tend to become more open (that's the reason they came to this place!). But there are downsides - often pubs are crowded and very noisy, it can kill your throat very quickly.

It takes two to tango

As I already said in the previous paragraph: I'm a little shy. Especially when it comes to that first contact and approaching a stranger. It's not so unusual that people gather in groups of 2 or more people. For me - it's very hard to mingle with that group, but you should definitely try to do that. Stand beside a group, listen and if they notice your existence ;) try to introduce yourself (pitch!).

I like to go to networking meetings with my friend Damian, he's like a wingman. He doesn't mind coming up to people we don't know and introduce himself. Then, I follow and frequently he leaves me by myself to go to another networker.

How may I help you?

You won't believe how rare that question is. During the conversation try to focus on the other side's needs. Try to guess and connect him with people you know who might help with his problems. This is the best of the best of networking - helping people and getting help, advice or simple feedback from them. This is the key in being there and talking!

Of course, you can also simply just ask: "How can I help you?". The most important is to remember what you promised, it's not such bad idea to write it down on a piece of paper or in your smartphone. And, of course - do it! If you promised to connect two people with each other, then contact them, try to do it after getting home or during the next day.

Source: gifbin.com

Active listening

Alright, just put this phrase "active listening how to" into Google and you'll find at least a dozen of articles like "10 steps to effective listening". Read that, I'm serious! Read all of them and use them during the conversation. First you will use just 2 or 3 things like asking questions, giving a verbal and nonverbal feedback or clarifying things, but then it will start to become second nature to you. And, of course, it will help you with your normal life conversations as well :)

Be a bridge

Create a connection between your interlocutor and a person from your network. The more valuable connection will be, the more appreciation you'll get. Think about who could help or advise and you'll surely find someone. But, again don't forget about it and send an email to both parties. They could look like this:

Subject: After the meeting on Startup Weekend

To: John

CC: Steven

Message:

Hi, John!

It was really nice meeting you on Startup Weekend's closing event. I really enjoyed talking about the cool stuff you prepared with your startup.

Please meet @Steven - he's a guy I told you about and I'm sure he's willing to help you with your problem.

@Steven - please meet John, he runs his own startup called …. and is looking for help on his problem with user acquisition. I think you are the perfect person to help him.

Greetings! --

Piotr

Bring in the cards

This is what I tend to forget about (but you can't! ;) - it's the business cards. You need one and it's better if it is a good one. Give away your card during a conversation, but also take one! This is crucial, if you don't take one, you may never know who did you just speak to.

Sometimes you do forget about bringing business cards. It's not such a big problem, if you have an iPhone with Roger app. It gives you the possibility to hand over your phone and your interlocutor will enter his e-mail, take a photo and record his voice. This is easy, just try it before going to an event. Personally, I really like that solution.

Befriend them on social media

Meeting someone on a meetup is just the first step. You get to meet someone, but in order to be recognized in the future, you need to stay in touch. It's better to do that using social media services like LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter. You have to find people you've met and add them so they can see your updates, shares etc.

It's also a good practice to send them a follow-up email (if you got one), similar to the one above:

Subject: After the meeting on Startup Weekend

To: John

Message:

Hi, John!

It was really nice meeting you on Startup Weekend's closing event. I really enjoyed talking about the cool stuff you prepared with your startup.

Let's stay in touch - we should definitely look for each other on the next Startup Weekend event!

Greetings,
--

Piotr

Believe in networking!

Building a network of people who can help you seems like a hard job at the beginning. You have to be open-minded, nice and meet a lot of people during every meetup (actually the last person is the key). But it's worth it! Believe in that and after a couple of meetups you'll see that this approach can raise your company a few bars up.

Remember about the Golden Rule of Networking: It’s not about who you know, it’s about who knows you.

Share your experience with networking in the comments below, I would love to hear what's your story.


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