Sometimes, "just being yourself" is easier said than done; this is especially true in business networking. While it’s normal to feel awkward at a networking event, it is nonetheless important to project confidence, act naturally, and put your best foot forward. Here are a few parameters to observe when embarking on a new networking opportunity that will help you avoid appearing “salesy” and will keep you focused on the real prize: Building long-term, mutually beneficial business relationships.
Ditch the Pitch
The days of the obnoxious "elevator pitch" are mostly behind us. Much more valuable is a conversation in which both parties are active participants. Think calm, confident thoughts during introductions, and when people ask, “What do you do?” keep your answer short and sweet. Anything longer than a sentence or two will sound like a sales pitch. Remember, you're not meeting a new opportunity, but a new person, which is potentially much more valuable. Decision-makers are bombarded with requests and pitches constantly, so strive to be a breath of fresh air, and don't expect to hit the jackpot with one conversation; the impression you make now may determine whether this person calls on you or seeks to include you in opportunities in the future. If at all possible, arrange for an introduction to be made beforehand, and keep in mind that the practice of networking is a long-term strategy.
The ability to listen is essential to being a good conversationalist under any circumstances, and people can tell when you aren't engaged. If you want them to feel comfortable confiding in you, be an active listener, and be on the lookout for ways that you can be an asset. Instead of just waiting for your turn to speak, or calculating the ways in which they can help you, pay close attention to what the person is saying, and try to learn something from it, and relate to it, sincerely. Just like a normal conversation.
Read as much as possible, particularly about the industry you wish to advance in, and keep a close eye on the news cycle as well. Become practiced in thinking about the ways that current events may affect your field. If the opportunity arises to demonstrate your potential value by elucidating the finer points of an argument, or offering to research a shared point of interest, by all means, take it. Knowledge is power, and it breeds confidence. When you have a broad base of knowledge, it’s much easier to make genuine connections and mutually respectful relationships that lead to business opportunities.
Work To Establish Trust
In networking situations, what we are really trying to sell is ourselves, and the vision or skill-set we bring to the table, and in order to do that, it's essential to establish trust. Believe it or not, one great way to establish trust is not to mention that thing that you’re dieing to mention. Stay focused on listening, contributing, and establishing a new long-term relationship. Don’t hesitate to share a personal story or anecdote if the opportunity presents itself; this generous overture is an invitation for others to feel safe in your presence, and will help your new contact to let her or his guard down. If you start feeling like you’re trying to close a deal, take a few deep breaths, and remind yourself why you’re there. Any successful business relationship functions best when there is a healthy personal relationship at its core.
People Come First
Although it may seem counterintuitive, most successful people understand that individuals always come first, and business second. This is, in fact, good business. Make a good first impression by engaging in active, empathetic listening, and new acquaintances will remember the easy and pleasant interactions they had with you. Easy, quiet confidence is a telltale sign of success and stability, and will draw more people to your business. And always conduct yourself ethically in every business dealing.
In the bestseller Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty, author Harvey Mackay talks about the importance of building your intentional network long before your career or business is in trouble. In fact, perhaps the biggest obstacle to networking effectively without coming off as “salesy”, is desperation. One of the best ways to protect yourself against that uneasy feeling is by being mentally prepared, exuding confidence (even if you don't feel confident), embracing the awkward moments, and embracing networking as a viable and necessary strategy for success, sooner rather than later.