Never go alone. That’s my mantra. The tough U.S. Marines work in teams, SCUBA divers go in pairs, Mormon missionaries travel by two, and smart men or women don’t wander alone at night in sketchy parts of town. You should never go to a networking event alone; it is just plain dangerous.
It is dangerous because if you go alone, you might just huddle in a corner and not meet a soul. That’s dangerous, perhaps fatal, to your career or your business.
You know the routine: Attend local events, bring plenty of business cards, and shake, shake, shake those hands. You have heard this before. I want you to forget everything you have read about networking to advance your career or business. Let’s do a bit of networking reinvention.
Here are four things that really make a difference in networking:
1. As mentioned, never go alone. Have you heard about the Dutch Admiral principle? This little-known story was shared in a leadership course.
“Not long ago, there were two junior officers in the Dutch Navy who made a pact. They decided that when they were at the various navy social functions, they would go out of their way to tell people what a great guy the other guy was. They’d appear at cocktail parties or dances and say, “What an unbelievable person Charlie is. He’s the best man in the Navy.” Or, “Did you hear about the brilliant idea Dave had?”
They revealed this pact to the public the day they were both made admirals – the two youngest admirals ever appointed in the Dutch Navy.” — Corporate Cultures: The Rites and Rituals of Corporate Life by Terrence E. Deal and Allan A. Kennedy.
Their little secret influenced the perceptions of others. Their peers saw them as leaders, as doers. According to Deal & Kennedy, it aided the process of what they call hero-making. They go on to explain that “believing is seeing” not the other way around.
If you cannot bring yourself to be an Admiral, then do a light version by inviting others to join you at the event. With social media, it is easy to connect with others. So, put word out on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook to figure out who else is attending, before the event. Agree to meet there.
2. Do not bring business cards. Here’s why: Everyone brings business cards. Collect from others. Leaving your business cards at the office forces you to be creative in your conversations. Do you really need physical cards when you can “bump” a smartphone and share your data? Or, just bring a pen. Write on your hand. But having no cards has never hurt my business and it has saved at least a tree branch.
3. Meet the event organizer. The person who put the event together knows a lot of people. Learn about what they do. If you’re shy, tell them the truth. They might surprise you and introduce you to some cool and helpful people.
4. Blog about the event. Don’t have a blog? Get one, or share it on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. Don’t like to write? Hire a ghostwriter. Head to MediaBistro or Guru or Elance. Share the positives of your experience. Mention some of the people you met. Express appreciation for all the details the event planner kept in mind for the group’s benefit. Before the next event, email it to the planner as well as a few of the people you met.
All of these ideas are meant to keep you from being isolated or alone during a networking event, which is half the battle. The purpose is to meet new people, but just as importantly, to serve people. These ideas will hopefully force you into a new pattern and out of your comfort zone, which ideally, will lead to new business relationships.
TJ McCue is a content producer who runs niche content sites. He shares tips at How To Network Your Business and serves as an evangelist for Biznik, the small business social network that hosts local events. His main site, which accepts guest posts, is found at TechBizTalk and focuses on the Tech Tools We Love.