A few years ago I was sat in a breakfast networking meeting along with about 30 other local business people.
Part of the meeting involved each person giving a 60 second introduction to the rest of the group. As I waited for my turn I carefully planned what I should say and rehearsed quietly under my breath.
It was almost my turn.
The guy ahead of me stood up, opened his mouth and what he said horrified me.
It wasn’t that he said anything wrong.
It was just that what he said was pretty much word for word what I was about to say in my introduction.
His name was Paul Harris. He was a nice enough chap but all I could think of in that instant was that he was my competition.
Today 5 years on we met again at the very same hotel. This time it wasn’t a breakfast meeting but rather a meeting of friends.
Since that first meeting all those years ago, Paul as become one of my close friends and a business partner.
We’ve collaborated on a number of projects, referred work to each other and given one another vital support on our respective journeys.
What has this got to do with you?
I’ve always been a networker. Most of my success in the corporate world came as a result of my investment in building relationships with people whether that was with colleagues, suppliers or external partners.
For some reason through, when I started my business and began to ‘business network’ my mindset changed. Suddenly I felt this pressure to self promote, sell and stand out in a room. I became too ‘me’ focused.
It’s one of the problems I’ve found in business networking – you can become so focused on yourself that you can miss opportunities which are right in front of you.
Thankfully I snapped out of that mindset quick enough to find some awesome opportunities. In fact 95% of my business comes as a direct result of networking activity.
Here are five simple networking principles which I live by that have enabled me to discover great business opportunities, connect other brilliant people together and develop a strong peer group.
#1 Go on, Smile.
Nobody wants to talk to someone who looks like they been smacked in the faced with a cold fish. You’d be surprised how many people look like they are about to be hung, drawn and quartered when they arrive at a meeting.
A smile is a universal currency and is understood across all languages and cultures without any translation. When you smile people know what you are saying and guess what? They smile back.
If you want people to speak to you then you have to look like you are approachable and the easiest way to do that is smile.
#2 Questions Are The Answers.
For me, networking is all about building relationships and helping people to solve problems. You can’t find ways to help someone if you don’t know what’s going on in their world and you can’t find out what is going on in their world if you spend all your time talking about yourself.
The most effective way to find out how you can help someone is by asking better questions. Ask open questions which invite the other person to talk about themselves with out feeling like they are being interrogated.
Once you’ve built up some rapport try asking something like “what exciting projects do you have on right now?”
#3 You have two ears for a reason.
My mum used to tell me “Vinay, you have two ears and one mouth for a reason…you must listen twice as much as you speak. ”
There is no point asking great questions if you aren’t going to listen.
Most people don’t listen properly. What they are actually doing is waiting for a gap in the conversation so that they can reply or get their point of view across. To really listen means switching off that voice in your head, being totally present and paying full attention as to the person who is speaking to you.
#4 Give, Give, Give.
I often hear the phrase “ Givers Gain” and I have to say that whilst I get the sentiment, I disagree. I say “Giver’s Give”.
If you are helping someone with tips, advice or even sending them something with the expectation that you may get something back in return, then you’ve missed the point.
If you are going to give someone something then do it with both hands, a full heart and without any expectation of return.
#5 Be Yourself
There’s a great Oscar Wilde quote “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
Yes, of course there is a level of professionalism but that shouldn’t mean you have to switch off your personality and turn into grey suited clone.
When you walk in to a room, have Skype call or use the good old fashioned telephone be totally you…warts and all. Trying to be anyone else is fruitless as somewhere down the line you’ll let your guard down and reveal who you really are anyway.
People buy people. They can spot a fake a mile off.