Have you ever been to an event where you were chatting with other people, small talk, have some drinks, exchange business cards and at the end, walk away with nothing else than a bunch of contacts that were trying to sell you something?
I have certainly been there.
I used to go to plenty of events when I was still working in corporate, trying to meet decision makers and make my pitch. The problem was, that most of the time, I was walking away from those events with nothing to show for but some contacts I knew were not interested in what I had to offer.
I’m still going to lots of events, as a guest and as a speaker, but a few things have fundamentally changed.
In this blog post, I want to show you what I have changed to make events work for me, generate leads and build real, lasting relationships with people I actually want to have in my life.
4 Major Reasons Why Networking at Events Doesn’t Get You Results
There are many more possible reasons but I want to dive deep into the ones I know are the major ones, based on lots of people I have talked to.
1. You Go to “Networking” Events
There are plenty of events to choose from and there are good ones and bad ones. The worst that I have found are the ones that exist purely for the sake of the so-called “networking”. What’s the problem with them?
Well, you go there for networking, that’s what’s wrong with them.
Networking, for most people, means handing out business cards and trying to sell people something, either a service, a product or themselves.
I am disgusted by those events, they give me chicken skin.
A Few Alternatives to “Networking” Events
Choose the events you go to based on your interests and passions. Don’t bother with the events where you think the executives, founders and other influencers could hang out if you are not highly interested in the topic. If you do, you will have nothing interesting to say there.
One of my coaching clients is passionate about football and the Greek culture. He finds events that are related to those topics because then, it’s not about going there to sell himself but to have a good time and meet likeminded people.
Another one of my coaching clients is passionate about startups and technology. He attends and speaks at events based on those topics so he can meet people who are likeminded and passionate about the same things.
Another coaching client of mine regularly attends workshops and seminars around topics he is curious about. That helps her not only to meet people with shared interests but also expand her knowledge and curiosity.
2. Your Message is Fuzzy
Most people I have met at events have an introduction that is either too complex for any human outside of their industry to understand or too generic.
I used to have a horrible introduction, not really knowing what to say to people. I improved it and things started to work in my favor.
I recently wrote about How to NOT Sound Confusing or Bland at Your Next Networking Event.
Make sure you have a clear statement about who you serve and what you help them achieve.
3. You Sell, Sell, Sell
Most people I have meet at events think they are there to either sell themselves or whatever they have to offer. That’s not what you are supposed to do at an event. You are supposed to build connections between you and people you want to have in your life.
If you are handing out business cards like invitations to your birthday party, it turns people off. We all have a stack of business cards in our drawer that we never look at and clean out every few years.
Instead, ask people for their business cards if you sincerely want to keep in touch and only give them yours, if they ask for it.
Ask people questions that sincerely interest you instead of talking about the weather or trying to fit in a sales message wherever you can. Ask people how they got to know about this event, why they went into the business they are in and what they are most passionate about.
This way, you will also have a much stronger foundation when the times comes to follow up after the event.
4. Me, Me, Me
This reason is related to selling yourself permanently.
Most people I have met at events just go on and on talking about themselves.
Let me tell you a secret, if you are not Richard Branson or Seth Godin, other people are not interested in hearing all about how great you are the first time they meet you.
Think about when you are dating somebody.
Are you going to tell your date how great you are or rather ask questions so you get to know as much as possible about the other person? Are you going for coffee with your date and after five minutes ask “How about we go to my place now?”
I hope not, otherwise we may have to talk about that problem as a separate topic.
People want to talk about themselves, that is natural. Instead of bragging about your achievements and status symbols, make it a dialogue. Make it an actual conversation.
Ask people questions that you sincerely want to know the answers to. If it’s applicable, add a comment about yourself, an experience or a story and then ask a question again.
Listen. Carefully listen what the other person says between the lines.
If she speaks about a story from the golf course, that’s probably a clue that she is into golf.
If she mentions technology in every second sentence, she is probably interested in tech.
If he keeps making a point about the importance of relationships, he is probably into that topic.
Here is a great video from Keith Ferrazzi about how he acts at events.
The Real Magic Happens After the Event
I mentioned follow up quickly but it deserves an entire book. You don’t sell something at an event and even if you do, you don’t build a relationships with the person you are selling to.
The time to sell yourself comes after the event, in the follow up. And when I say sell yourself, I mean provide massive value while keeping in touch. That is the secret of success in the business of relationships.
It all starts with asking the right questions at the event. If you know nothing about a person other than their name, job title, organization they work at and where they live, you don’t have any clue what to say when trying to keep in touch.
Clues to Fuel Your Keep in Touch Efforts
I already mentioned a few questions you can ask. Whatever questions you ask, make sure they are deep and meaningful. Make sure the questions are of interest to you as well.
Then, when you hear the other person talk about a topic over and over again, take notes. These are the topics you will mention when keeping in touch.
Maybe you are going to send your new connection a TED talk you admire that fits a topic she mentioned at the event. Maybe you will send her an article about the future of social media if that was a clue you heard when talking with her at the event.
You should have a selection of a few specific topics for each person you meet written down somewhere in your keep in touch system. This way, you will not only be able to keep in touch regularly and know what to say but you will also know who you can introduce to each other in your network based on their shared interests and passions.
Introducing people to each other is probably the most effective keep in touch strategy you can have in place.
3 Ways to Get More Out of Events
Let me show you three ways to get more out of future events you go to.
1. Speak at the Next Event
A few of my clients do this on a regular basis and it works very well. The reason is if you speak at an event, you are the VIP automatically. You don’t need to be the keynote speaker, you can make the introduction or have another smaller part at the event.
I started doing this for myself last year and it has been highly rewarding because more and more people got to know me. After a speech, people approached me and in a few cases, I got new clients from speaking at an event.
2. Choose Topics and Events Very Carefully
There are plenty of events happening every day you could go to, so which ones do you choose?
Generally speaking, the best events are the ones that are not open to the wide public. They are events that are more hidden and fewer people know about or have access to.
An example is the Live Your Legend meetup that happened around the world on 7th January 2013 and hopefully will keep on happening. Next time I’m in Zurich and this event is happening, I’m certainly going to be there.
Other examples are the World Domination Summit, Startup Weekend, TEDx events and events from associations that are open to members only.
I know that these events work best because my coaching clients have the best results with them.
Recently, one of my clients told me about a startup event series he is attending in Switzerland. It’s completely open to the public. Most people he meets there are executives who want to enter the startup scene in Switzerland. However, what he is looking for is startup founders and investors, people he can partner up with to co-found a startup in Switzerland.
I told him to consider events where he has a bigger chance of meeting founders who are in business since 1-5 years and join associations where startup founders and investors hang out.
It’s the perfect additional type of events for him to meet influencers and decision makers.
3. Go There With the Expectation of Having a Great Time
If you go to your next event without thinking how you can sell yourself and tell everyone what you have to offer, you are likely to get much more out of the event.
Instead, go there to simply have a good time and meet likeminded people. Go there to have fun and talk to peers about topics you and they are passionate about. Go there to offer a helping hand to people who seek advice and insights.
You will end up making connections with people you actually care about. You will also end up with new connections you can keep in touch with genuinely because you naturally listen to people more intensively if you actually care about what they tell you.
3 Simple Things to Do Right Now to Get More Out of Events
1. Create a statement about who you serve and what you help them achieve
2. Join 4 associations around topics you are passionate about and sign up for 2 events over the next month
3. Write down 5 meaningful questions you can ask people at events