Elaine, Senior PR & Content Manager

I attended a networking event last week in London, and it got me thinking about why and how we ‘network’ in business and what real results we get out of it. The obvious reason most people will cite when asked why they attend such events is simple: to win business. But is this really possible, or even the right thing to focus on? As someone at the event wisely quipped to me last week, ‘everyone is here to get business, not to give it’.

For me, a self-confessed ‘people person’ and a lover of talking to (not at) others, events like this have to be about something much more fundamental: forming relationships. Getting people on your team and getting excited about joining their teams. My networking rules are simple:

  • Don’t sell. Don’t sell yourself, your soul or your services
  • Really listen to what others are saying and think about how it relates to your own goals. Master the art of thinking and listening at the same time (it’s a bit like the head tapping tummy rubbing thing)
  • Let them know you’re listening. Be responsive, ask questions and refer to what they were saying earlier
  • Get enthusiastic; express an interest in what they have to offer you, even if it’s hypothetical… ”Well, if I was about to go into space then I can see how your £100 bags of oxygen would be really beneficial, what an interesting concept”
  • Be helpful. Offer them your advice, connect them with others… “My friend Spike is actually a spacecraft engineer, I’ll put you in touch”

#Alternativefacts: At any networking event, you will find 60% of attendees selling, 30% telling and 10% listening.

Positioning ourselves as responsive, interested and engaged is really the key to forming successful and fruitful relationships. By taking this approach, you’ll often find that you can later weave in an opportunity to mention what you offer, and because a foundation of trust and openness has been laid, this will be much more seriously considered than if you’d gone straight in for the sell.

As we say here, we love telling stories. But it’s vital to listen to those stories first, if we ever want to be considered as their narrator. Form strong relationships first, and you will likely reap the rewards later. Because you never know: everyone you meet, from the barman to the event organiser to that junior employee at that business that was totally uninteresting to you at the time, they may go on to different jobs and bigger things, and if they remember you, you may have just won yourself some business after all.