The best networkers approach someone at an event and seek to understand them and HELP them first. They seek to understand what drives and motivates someone and WHO they are as a human being. They learn WHAT that person’s goals are. Finally, they try to understand HOW that person is working to achieve their goals. Once a networker understands WHO you are, WHAT you are trying to accomplish and HOW you are doing it, then they can try to HELP. That HELP can come in a few forms. They can provide encouragement, advice, a referral or a solution.
If you follow this method of networking, two very important things will happen for you. First, you will enjoy yourself more and more people will like you. It is actually easier to ask a question and listen then it is to talk. If you go around telling and selling instead of asking and helping, then people are likely to be turned off. If you ask someone about WHO they are, WHAT their goals are and HOW they are working towards their goals, most people will sincerely appreciate it. People generally like talking about themselves. Also, they are used to hearing the four most “popular” questions at a networking event (What do you do? Have you been here before? Where are you from? Where do you live?). Since everyone regularly asks them, you will stand out if you don’t. If you have a genuine curiosity about WHO someone is as a human, WHAT their goals are and HOW they are working towards their goals, you will tend to listen and ask follow up questions. People will like that even more. If you can talk with 20 people and ask them all these questions, you should have more of them like and remember you than if you tell 20 people what you do. Networking is about relationships. Getting people to like you is a good start.
Just asking the three questions alone will likely make them like you. If you add the fourth element you are almost sure to succeed. In the fourth step, after learning the answers to the first three questions, you will make an attempt to HELP them. Try to HELP them in the most effective way while remaining conscious of the time and energy you are investing into this person. I see HELP on a spectrum.
At the simple or easy end of the spectrum of HELP is encouragement. “Hey, it was good to get to learn about you, your goals and your strategy. I wish you luck and success.” How hard is that to say?! It is easy to say and it is a nice bit of HELP to encourage someone.
The next level of HELP is advice or information. If you know something that can HELP the person you just met achieve their goals, tell them. Maybe it is a book, a website, a fact, or sharing an experience that you have had or know about that may give them a better chance of reaching their goals. Be careful to avoid giving common sense advice that may seem condescending.
The third level of HELP is really powerful; a referral. If you learn about WHO someone is as a person, WHAT their goals are, and HOW they are currently working towards those goals, you may be able to refer them to someone that can HELP them reach that goal. Think about the ratio of effort to HELP. It may be really easy for you to provide someone a name and number and it may change their life. There many ways to provide referrals. You might just tell me the name of the owner of a restaurant and tell me to call and mention your name as I try to book an event there. On a higher level you may make the contact on my behalf and advocate to the referral that they connect with me. Some people call that a recommendation. Make sure you are providing the most HELP you can while being careful about investing too much time and energy.
The fourth level of HELP is a solution. If I learn WHO you are, WHAT your goals are, and HOW you are working to reach those goals, I may be able to HELP you myself. If your goal is to sell widgets and I’m in need of a widget, I can buy the widget from you instead of a stranger. This kind of HELP is rare! But, provide it if you can.
Again, asking these questions and providing this HELP will certainly be a good start to a relationship.
The second reason to follow this WHO – WHAT – HOW – HELP method is because you are gathering information to make a good decision. You are gathering information about the 10 or 20 people you meet at a networking event in order to decide which people you are going to talk to again.
Think about what you are doing in the big picture when attending a networking event. You are building a list of contacts, sorting them by priority and deciding how you will follow up with the one, two or three best people. If you go around telling and selling you won’t gather as much or as high quality information as you will if you go around asking questions and listening.
The word “judgmental” has a very negative connotation in our society. However, let’s be realistic, the world would not function very well if we didn’t make judgments about people. We should be careful and thoughtful about our judgments and still make them. Realistically, if I spend 5 minutes each talking to 20 people I know that I don’t know everything I could know about them. But what alternative do I have? I don’t have infinite time to get to know an infinite number of people. I’m going to need to make a rough priority list for myself so I can determine who to talk to more. I’ll talk more about this topic in a later article. However, my point here is that if you are telling and selling you aren’t gathering as much information as you would be if you are asking questions. If you are asking sales questions that are meant to uncover a need and then telling to provide a solution, you are selling. I’ll address sales conversations in a later article as well. My point here is that a networking event is a place for a networking conversation, not sales. Ask questions, build a foundation for a relationship with everyone you talk to, help everyone you talk to as much as realistically possible and gather information so that you can determine who you are going to talk to again.
Finally, be prepared to answer the questions you ask. You will get better at asking if you get better at answering and vice versa. Answer them right now. WHO are you as a person? WHAT are your goals? HOW are you currently working towards them? What kind of HELP would be easy for someone to provide to you that would have a huge impact on your success?
In summary, ask these questions and provide help to 10 or 20 people at a networking event. You may be surprised by how much fun you have, that it is so much easier than constantly talking and trying to convince people of something, that people are receptive to a fresh approach, the things you will learn, and how many quality leads you will generate.