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How to fail at networking – its easier than you think

By Aly Harrold

Effective networking is vital to the success of many of our businesses, writes Aly Harrold.

It is a key part of my own marketing strategy as it enables me to:
• Meet people face to face
• Show how I can help them 
• Build my database
• Find potential partners for joint ventures
• Share knowledge and contacts
• Share information on my workshops or programmes 
and so much more, depending on what my priorities are at the time of the networking event. 

I firmly believe in the value of networking and the power of reciprocity, by which I mean the giving of something of value and receiving something of value to me and my business in return. 

I have seen many poor networkers who fail to capitalise on the opportunities networking presents and, in many cases, making a few simple changes can make or break your networking success. In my experience the failures have fallen into the following 5 areas and I have included my tips on how to turn them around.  

One: Being selfish 
• Only thinking of what you can get for your business
• Rambling on over the allotted time
• Not being relevant 

Improve by this by:
Considering all the different ways you can help the person you are talking to. We all know a lot of people in our networks, in fact if you have a network of around 300, most people will have around 30 valuable referrals or recommendations. 
• When it is your turn to speak, consider who you are talking to? What value can you provide?  What are their ‘pain’ points which you can solve? 
• Sticking to your allotted time. Most networking events are busy and run on a basis of fairness, allowing each attendee time to speak for an equal amount of time. If you overrun, your audience may switch away from listening to what you are saying to wondering when are you going to stop. You may irritate the networking host and potentially prevent another attendee from having their time slot. 

Two: Garbled communication
• Giving an unclear introduction to yourself and your business at the first meeting
• Badly delivering your one minute, leaving the audience confused about who you are and what you can offer
Improve by … 
• Preparing your introductory statement and your one minute in advance and practicing saying them out loud. You will soon feel if something isn’t right and you will have the opportunity to address it in advance rather than having that sinking feeling when you sit down in the meeting, wishing you had said something else. Practicing will also reduce the chance of filler words, the ‘umms’ and ‘errs’.  
• Think about using your voice effectively, not only in terms of volume, but your tone. Can you inject more variety? Our voices are wonderful instruments, capable of so much. They convey our presence, energy, feelings and enthusiasm and our accents tell the untold story of our upbringing.  
• If standing up and talking about your business for even one-minute fills you with absolute dread, consider investing in some training to help you feel more confident. We invest in networking as part of our business, so why should we not invest in making ourselves as effective as possible and potentially enjoying the experience that much more.  

Three: Not listening 
One of the biggest problems in communication is not listening to understand, but listening to reply. Not being listened to makes us feel undervalued and under-appreciated. Examples of not listening include: 
• Maintaining little or no eye contact. This creates the perception that you are busy wondering who else can you speak to instead of properly engaging with the person you are with right now. 
• Fidgety body language; playing with your hair, jewellery, handbag strap… you get the picture. This makes you look uncomfortable, impatient and ultimately bored with the person you are currently talking to.
• Barging into a conversation, taking over and monopolising the conversation about you and your business and then leaving abruptly to do the same elsewhere in the room, or having such a long conversation that you prevent your conversation partner from speaking to anyone else. 
• Not talking to anyone. This is the antithesis of above, but you have invested time and money in attending the event and people expect to speak to strangers. You are all there to meet people and make connections. 
Improve by 
• Actively making yourself spend 80% of your time listening and reducing your time talking to 20%. 
• The same 80/20 rule applies to eye contact: 80% eye to eye contact, the remaining 20%, look at the eyebrow or bridge of the nose
• If you are joining a conversation, wait a moment and gently contribute to the ongoing discussion before introducing yourself. 
• If you are striking up a new conversation, store up a few questions that will require a follow-up to open the discussion, such as “Who else do you know here?”, “How do you feel about…?”, How do you manage to…?”
• Have concise conversations. It is quite possible to have thought-provoking conversations that build the rapport you need in a short time. If you want to have a longer discussion, arrange to stay in touch and continue at a later date.
• Thank the person you have been speaking with and name them in the response, e.g. “That’s very interesting Martin, thank you”, “You’re very generous, Emily, thank you for sharing that advice/recommendation/contact with me.” “That’s very interesting, can you tell me more about that?”
One of the sincerest forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say. 

 Four: Not capitalising on the opportunities  
This is usually down to the following: 
• Having no clear strategy or reason for being there  
• Failing to represent yourself in the best way 
• Not following up after the event and failing to keep your promises
Improve by PLANNING 
• Networking is a process, not an event. It is also an investment in both your time and money, so define your goals. Look at what your business objectives are, consider what’s going on in your business which you may wish to promote/share, do you need specific support? 
• Prepare your one-minute in advance and ensure it is in line with your goals. 
• Be authentic and be the person who others feel confident enough in to refer business to
• Dress appropriately for the event; check in advance what the dress code is. 
• Have plenty of quality business cards.  To give yours away, ask for theirs first. After the event, make a few relevant notes on the card, such as the event where you both met, the date, venue and anything you promised to do. 
• Finally, follow-up as appropriate, particularly if you promised anyone anything. 

Summary 
I hope this has inspired you to make 2018 your best ever year for networking and remember this phrase from Confucius - “There is one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all one’s life: Reciprocity.”. 

Aly Harrold is a professional public speaking coach and trainer, helping women conquer their fears, so they can stand up and share their message with confidence and conviction. For more information please visit www.alyharrold.co.uk