How to Survive and Thrive at a Business Networking Event (A Guide for Awkward People)

Photo credit: FollowUpSuccess.com

Photo credit: FollowUpSuccess.com

Networking is very important for success. This is pretty common knowledge. It’s not what you know as much as it is who you know. LinkedIn and other social networks are good up to a point, but nothing can replace planting your mug in front of folks.

Up until about 6 or so months ago I hated going to “networking” meetings. I was MORTIFIED at the thought of
  • Awkwardly making small talk with complete strangers
  • Ending up in awkward conversational pauses
  • Getting caught in conversations with people who aren’t that interesting
  • Not knowing what to talk about
  • Not knowing anybody
  • Possibly being the guy standing alone in the corner looking at and swirling their drink

It’s an entirely nerve wracking experience.

Through a lot of research and sucking it up and attending some of these things, I have learned a thing or two. I am now perfectly comfortable in these types of environments.

So, in an effort to reach out to those who need to do this in-person networking type stuff, but have all of the same fears that I did, I am making this guide to assuage those anxieties and give you some tools to function well at these type of things.

I am by no means a master networker/connector/anything like that, but I have been in the shoes of people who are terrified by the prospect of having to attend something like this and want to help.

I will put forth that I am working from a base line of general extroversion and thriving pretty well in small groups, even if it is strangers (events with 7 or more people still intimidated me to the point of not attending). I get that I was a little higher up on a comfort scale than many who will have to attend these things, but we all start from somewhere right?

1. Many of the people at these events feel the exact same way

Yes.

The number one thing that I learned from looking up the abundance of articles on how to cope with these anxieties was that I’m obviously not the only one who has them. Most of the people at the event that you are attending aren’t social butterflies who can shake hands, slap backs, and work a room like a politician during election season.  A lot of them have the same anxieties about working a room full of strangers that you do.

Take solace in that. You are not alone.

2. Consistency in attendance. Don’t try to meet everyone in one night.

A popular misconception about these events is that you have to “make the sale” right then and there. You have to go there, pitch your product/service, and hand out business cards to everybody in that room before the nights done.

It’s not a one and done prospect.

Your best bet is to choose 1 or 2 groups/organizations, show up to all of the events, talk to a few people at each event until either the event is over or the conversation dies (more on striking up conversation later), leave.

If you hit it off, or have something further to talk about with those folks, then follow up after the meeting and set something up (more on that later). If you don’t have any interest in a relationship with them, then don’t follow up. Say hi to them at the next event. You should try to remember people’s names (I am not known for being good at this), but if you don’t, it’s fine. They probably didn’t remember your either. And if they do, it means you were memorable and interesting.

Hopefully the event has name tags that you can try to subtly check out.

At the next event, do the same exact thing. Have good conversations with a few people. Follow up or don’t.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Over time you’ll have met several people at these events and a lot of people will know you.

The important thing is to not spread yourself too thin over several random groups. I already sort of have issues with this because I have real estate investor groups as well as history-based groups that I try to balance, but they can be somewhat related since I work for a General Contractor.

 

 

3. How the f*** do I get into a group of people to talk with them?

This is always one that made me feel the most awkward. A couple of people or a group of people is standing around having a conversation and you don’t want to just stand there and be weird.
Here’s a simple guideline

1) If the group is a closed circle or two people are facing each other square, then they’re really deep into a conversation, do not go in.

2) If there is an open space in a group, or two people are standing and talking in sort of like a V with their bodies angled out into the space in an open sort of posture, then they are INVITING somebody else to join.

Just stand in that spot and start listening. It’s not awkward, that’s just how you insert yourself into these conversations. Eventually somebody will introduce themselves to you which is your invitation to meet the group, shake hands, exchange names, and make with the chit-chat (more on what to chit-chat about later). If no one introduces themselves to you (odds are slim that they won’t) wait until a conversational lull, throw out a hand and make an introduction.

It definitely feels weird at first, but when you try it once and see that it works you’ll be like “Oh…. that was easy.”

You just have to get over yourself.

Personally, I prefer groups of 3 or more. The conversation is less likely to die down when there are more people.

One thing that I always try to do as a former Networking-ophobic is to always make space for someone who even kind of looks like they are alone and trying to join the conversation circle. Even going so far as to invite them in.

It’s actually a really interesting dynamic. The group will expand into a circle, and as it reaches critical mass to where there’s like 8 people in a giant circle, side conversations begin and the circles divide like a single celled organism splitting itself.

If you see a person standing by themselves they are fair game. Go and strike up a conversation about whatever. If anything, they may be that awkward person who isn’t sure how to approach people and you have made the event much better for them. And they might have a lot to offer and be an interesting person.

4. What do I talk about? NOT yourself.

What am I suppose to talk about with these people? Well, you aren’t suppose to talk. People don’t really care about what you have to say, but they LOVE talking about themselves. Just ask them questions about them. Always ask open-ended questions

Here’s some questions:

  • What brings you here today/tonight? This is pretty obvious. The one thing that you and this other person have in common is that you are both there for some reason. This can lead to all sorts of off-shoots of topics.
  • What do you do? : Basic questions. It’s a baseline. Sometimes they can give you enough with this where you can riff of of with questions for a while. For example “I’m an architect” can be followed up by “What sort of buildings to you design?” “What got you into that?” “Where did you study” and you can just go on asking questions.
  • Where are you from?: You could share something you know about it and ask them about that, talk about a place that’s somewhat close and ask if they’ve been, you can ask why they left, where they went to college, etc.

The important thing to remember is to have a genuine interest in the person’s story. Personally, I love knowing people’s stories and all about them. You can ask a ton of questions and go pretty deep without touching on sensitive subject matter. If they mention that their parents passed away, I wouldn’t ask “how?” Or something along those lines.

This is a basic tenet of the seminal self-help book How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. It’s a classic and everybody should have read this at least once.

Also, if the person really has nothing interesting you can probe about… see the section on ending conversations.

Of note, unless it’s a political event, or a religious event, don’t talk politics, religion, or anything that could possibly put you at odds with someone there on a personal level.

5. Conversation Enders

A lot of time you get caught up in a situation where you guys have nothing left to talk about. You can both tell that the conversation is ending, but not quite sure how to separate.

You look around to try to bring somebody else in to freshen up the conversation…nobody.

This simple phrase works wonders:

“Well, it was great talking to you!” And move on.

Yes, it’s that simple. You are both looking for a way to end the conversation and move on to something else, it just takes someone with the balls to acknowledge that the conversation is dead and rip the band-aid off.

You will be relieved, they will be relieved.

If you want to be non-confrontational about it, or this seems too sudden then the following solutions are available to you. (These also work if it’s someone who is just yammering about bullsh*** or is uninteresting).

1) “It was nice talking, I have to get with so-and-so to follow up about (X)” And go join another group or person. Even if you don’t know them or have anything to talk about, just start a new conversation. It’s much better if it’s somebody you’ve met before though, so you can catch up.

2) “I have to run to the restroom.” Go to the restroom. If you don’t have to go, just look in the mirror and make sure your tie’s straight. Also, maybe wash your hands since you’ve probably just shaken a bunch of hands.

You can only go to the well with this one so many times before people have seen you run to the bathroom 4 times in an hour.

3) “I’m out, I need to go grab a drink” Keep a small amount of drink in your glass, finish it, and use the old bar excuse. Get caught up in a conversation with someone else at the bar.

Once again, I emphasize, everybody is at these things to network, so most people will be on the same page with you of trying to talk to more than one person, or ending a conversation that’s going nowhere.

6. How to Follow Up 

Okay, so you’ve made a connection.You and the other person either get along great, or can potentially do business.

This is probably the most important part.

Admittedly, since I’m new to the whole networking event thing, I have substantially less experience with follow up. This is also an area that I need to work on getting better at. Thus, I present to you this Forbes article that I have found to be accurate based on experience and podcasts such as the Art of Charm that I have listened to.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/yec/2014/09/23/how-to-master-the-art-of-networking-follow-up/#1d206c60602c

7. Be a Connector

If you have met someone earlier in the event, or during a different event for the group and meet someone who they might have a common interest with, introduce them! Even if you don’t connect with these folks automatically, they will remember that you are the one who introduced them. Even if they don’t associate their acquaintance with you, you have helped some people out and have built up some good karma.

8. Don’t Drink Too Much

Enjoying a cocktail or two is fine, but don’t be that guy/girl who gets drunk to deal with the fact that they can’t handle social situations. It’s a social lubricant up to a point…. break up your drinks with water to hydrate.

That’s about the gist of it. The most important thing to remember is that anything that you’re feeling as far as anxiety, awkwardness, whatever.. you’re not the only one.

And once you are comfortable moving about a room at a networking event, be sure to make room for or talk to the person standing by themselves awkwardly staring down at their drink and introduce them to some other folks.

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Tour Company Stuff, New Podcast Recommendations, WM 31, Star Trek, Musings

I haven’t written anything in a couple of months now, which is hurting my mission of this blog being the first thing that comes up when you Google my very unique name. I’ve still got to chase Spokeo and Quirky off of the first page of results, but that will come. I will take this opportunity to update y’all on happenings with the tour business (why I’ve been so busy), My Wrestlemania 31 predictions, some cool new Podcasts that I’ve been getting into, and pretty much just muse about stuff that I’ve been thinking about.

DSC01521Big Things For the Tour Guys

Big things going on for me with the Richmond Tour Guys. First off, tour season has restarted! I finally get to give tours again. I’ve even brought on 2 guides so I can have some weekends off occasionally. One of them is a recent VCU Grad with a degree in History and the other is long time Church Hill (the oldest neighborhood in Richmond) resident who will be doing 2 tours of Church Hill per month.

That reminds me, I have added a tour of Church Hill which will take place on Saturdays at 3:30 PM and Thursday evenings at 5:00 PM. I’m very excited for these as Church Hill has so much rich history share and the tour ends around a pub, so I may be able to have a pint or two with some of the more interesting tour attendees.

I was also contacted by Taylor’s Classic Travels that has a trolley that they rent out for private events, wine tours, brewery tours, and weddings. They have been hired by The Brownstone and Butler’s Unique Catering to do a tour of Church Hill and are using me to guide the tours. I’m very excited to make this connection and work with Terra and Joe.

If you want to buy tickets to this all-you-can-eat brunch, ride a trolley, and witness me blow your mind with my awesome tour guiding, the link is here.

After I get back from visiting family and friends on the West Coast in June, I’m going to start charging for tours and see if this has legs as a full-fledged business. So if you want to come on the free tour, get it while it lasts!

I’ve also had a ton of other opportunities come my way as well that I’m working on, but can’t mention yet on such a public forum…..

New Podcasts

Entrepreneur On Fire: Since the tour business has been going so well, I have decided that I need to update my business IQ. Since I have no formal business training and I am too busy to read any non-history related books since I’m writing and developing two new tours; I get it in during my morning cleansing ritual (shower, shave, getting dressed, etc.) and driving time (which I have much of) via Podcasts.

Entrepreneur On Fire has given me some, as the host John Lee Dumas would put it, “mind blowing insights” into my business. Basically, he spends a half-hour interviewing various entrepreneurs about their business, how they built it, and finding out their habits. I have gained more insight into how to run, market, and view my business than I could possibly have otherwise.

Ironically enough, the first one that I listened to was an interview with a guy who started Museum Hack which gives entertaining tours of museums in New York.

I was hooked.

Now I listen to the almost every podcast Lee puts out. If you are an entrepreneur, side-preneur (me!), or want-repreneur, this is a great Podcast to check out. It has quickly risen to the top of my podcast Queue.

What the Speak!: This Podcast is all about Public Speaking. Bryan Kelly interviews public speakers of all sorts and learns about their journey, which teaches me all sorts of tips and tricks.  Being a Tour Guide, a lot of what I do is performance based speaking. Since I have no formal education in public speaking (other than a one semester Speech class Freshman year of college where my final project was an epic speech on the word F***) I decided to look for a podcast on the topic.

One Google search later, lo and behold, What the Speak comes up. It really put what I do into perspective. Even without being able to see myself giving tours, I can already see things that I need to work on and improve.

The Thomas Jefferson Hour – Switching gears, this podcast is all about the most famous of Virginians… Thomas Jefferson. Clay Jenkins, award winning Humanities Scholar and Thomas Jefferson researcher, gives in-character interviews as Thomas Jefferson to give his view. It sounds really hokey, but it is one of the most incredible podcasts that I listen to. Jenkins has studied Thomas Jefferson so in depth, that he flawlessly answers questions off the cuff, citing primary sources for reference.

Actually, learning about Thomas Jefferson and all that he accomplished in field literally ranging from A to Z (he even knew how to tie arteries!) will really make one feel intellectually inferior.

Wrestlemania 31 Predictions

Wrestlemania 31 is coming up  and I’m not super thrilled about the card.

The match I’m most looking forward to is Bray Wyatt vs. The Undertaker. Now that the Undertaker has had his streak broken (last year by Brock Lesnar) it’s fair game as to whether he can win or lose. There’s no assumption that the streak will continue because it’s been broken. They could have Taker lose, and have that be the nail in his coffin as he passes the torch to the self-titled “New Face of Fear” Bray Wyatt, or he could win and redeem himself. I hope he loses and rides out into the sunset…. although by the looks of it he may have trouble getting on the horse. It’s a tossup, but I’ll say Wyatt wins which will fit into the narrative on next year’s Wrestlemania where Undertaker will hang up the boots if he loses and his opponent is some heel who just wants to “put him out of his misery.”

Triple H vs. Sting will be good. They are both incredible in-ring storytellers. Seeing Sting in action in front of 80,000 people again will be nuts. He’s been in small arena’s with TNA for the last 12 years. It’s hard to say who’s going to win, but my money is on Sting to fit with the Wrestlemania hero’s win narrative. The match will be very good.

John Cena vs. Rusev is a feud that I have really been enjoying. There’s just something so old school and nostalgic about a Russian talking smack about the US and the hero standing up and fighting for the country he loves. (Rusev’s actually Bulgarian, but WWE doesn’t have much regard for the geographic knowledge of their audience). They had a really good match at Fastlane and I think this one will be good as well. Cena goes over for the feel good moment.

Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar…. eh.. the build up to this has been atrocious. I mean it’s basically Paul Heyman giving awesome promos and Roman Reigns fighting off the Authority. I like Roman Reigns, but I don’t buy him as a Wrestlemania main eventer. Not yet at least. Lesnar has officially re-signed with WWE, so I think he wins since Reigns is proving to be a non-starter for much of the WWE Universe. I still think Rollins is going to cash in Money in the Bank at WM 31.

By the way, that crowd is going to be very ruthless to Roman Reigns.

The Intercontinental Title Ladder Match is going to be a fun match, but there are better ways to use the guys who are going to be in it. Daniel Bryan was main-eventing Wrestlemania last year and now he’s been jammed into a match with 6 other guys who have nothing else to do on that Sunday night. The build up has been somewhat amusing, mostly thanks to R Truth’s antics, but overall it’s a real non-starter. I say Bryan captures the title in order to bring some prestige back to it.

The Bellas vs. AJ and Paige is also a real non-starter, mostly because I do not like the Bella Twins. Nikki is so sloppy and unbelievable as a credible threat. Paige and AJ can wrestle circles around them. Either way, it’ a Divas match, so the WWe will probably either give them 3 minutes or just bump them when Sting/Triple H goes too long. Because that’s what WWE does to Divas at Wrestlemanias. Paige and AJ for the victory.

Andre The Giant Battle Royal: Who knows? After Cesaro won last year and was summarily buried, it doesn’t feel like this Battle Royal matters as much as it did last year when it was new and could potentially be a stepping stone to greater things. I don’t rightly know who will win; or care for that matter. So…uh… let’s jut say that…uh…. Curtis Axel wins and gets pushed to the stars! Axelmania!

Star Trek

A few months ago, I decided to watch Star Trek, the original series on Netflix. I had never watched it before and had a much different idea of what it was in my mind prior to watching it…..

Zounds! What an incredible show! I mean the production value isn’t incredible, but the messages and morals are mind blowing. Spock’s insights into humanity from a purely logical perspective and his verbal exchanges with Captain Kirk are highly entertaining. The show really makes one think about humanity and society’s faults as well as our greater qualities such as a soul and free will. Things that we take for granted are put on display in different species that lack these things.

I’m almost ashamed I hadn’t given it a chance before. I’m smack dab in the middle of season 2 right now.

Other Thoughts

  • I was at Sweetfrog by the theater the other day waiting for my beautiful girlfriend to meet me and ventured over to see what was playing and realized I had never heard of any of the movies that were playing. You see, Melanie and I cut our cable cord a year or so ago and have not looked back since. Between the internet, Netflix, and Hulu, we don’t miss anything AND we get to save money and not watch all of the commercials. The commercials we see are not the same as they are on actual TV so we never see movie previews. I’m pretty sure they’re all going to be terrible anyway. Anything that’s grandiose enough to win awards is not worth paying to see in theaters anyway when it will be out on VOD and DVD in 2 months.
  • Light beer is disgusting. I use to drink it if it was present at a gathering. I liked it okay. I accidentally bought Yuengling Light the other day and was severely disappointed to taste that flavorless beer when I was expecting delicious Yuengling.
  • Yuengling, for my West Coast compatriots who haven’t heard of it, is a great East Coast beer. It’s like a step above Bud/Coors/Miller in terms of taste and maybe $1 more expensive for a 6-pack, but not quite as expensive or heavy as craft brews. I had never actually heard of Yuengling until I moved to the East Coast, because apparently it isn’t distributed West of the Mississippi. It is the oldest brewery in the country, by the way.
  • I want to have a Podcast in the worst way…. soon…..

Remember everybody, Matthew Maggy says “zip it up and zip it out!”

 

Uber Driving: My First Night

Uber-LogoSeeking some extra cash and loving to drive, I decided to become a driver for Uber, the ride-sharing service.

I had heard about it on an Econ Talk podcast where they interviewed the guy from the “Y Combinator” (a small business incubator) about this Uber company. I’ve used things like Blablacar and Zimride before for a long-distance trip, but this was new. I passed the background and DMV checks, and got the standard iPhone.

Uber Pic

You have to take a picture for your Uber. This is my hastilly taken photo as I was about to begin.

 

What the Heck is Uber?

Tonight was essentially my foray into a low level taxi driving. Errr…uh… I mean “Ride-sharing.” ….. but better. Ride Sharing is where people give each other rides in exchange for money. In this case, the transaction is facilitated by smart-phone apps. Ever call a cab on a Friday night in the city? It takes at least 15 minutes to arrive. My average tonight was 5. It’s also less expensive than taking a regular taxi or so I heard tonight from my customers. To be honest, I don’t think it’s much less, but it’s a much better service.

Preparation For The First Night

Today I had to vacuum and wash my car, so that cost a bit. I spent money on food ( not being home to cook) and drinks. I purchased some water bottles, cookies and gum to offer to riders. They seemed to appreciate that. It’s a good way to keep a 5 star rating (which by the way is pretty much the rating that you have to have).

The Riders

This was many of my riders’ first time using Uber. That means it’s catching on more and more, which is good for business.

My first riders were two girls to the train station to catch the bus up to Washington DC. Nice girls. Easy ride, minus the evening traffic.

My second was taking a rider from North Richmond to Henrico to see her friend perform comedy at some sort of biker bar. I missed the freeway exit, did some weird stuff with the GPS again ,and passed the bar. I felt so terrible because it was increasing the miles on her. I’m sure it wasn’t much more (like 10 cents) but still!

On a fourth fare, a group of girls that I picked up on Franklin celebrating their graduation from Dental school, I tried to zoom on a map to find out that girls’ cross street and made the app say that I had arrived when I hadn’t. I had to call the girl to find them. Then, when I finally got there, the Uber app on my Uber-issued iPhone froze and crashed! I drove them roughly 1 mile down the street and dropped them off at a restaurant in Shockoe Bottom.

Then the Uber app restarted.

Then there was a guy who was going to get a video from the video store, pick up a pizza, and have a chill night in. Then his car breaks down, so I took him to get the pizza and took him to his house. He said he would get his car tomorrow. Their was also the “bros” from UofR and the group of girls going to “the club.”

And so…many…one-way….streets…

 Results

I made out okay. I didn’t lose money. I worked 4.5 hours and what I made equates to about $6/hour, which is after I account for upfront costs I had to get my car washed, which was about due anyway. I bought bottled water. And  I probably bought more drinks and snacks than I should have. I won’t make that mistake again.

I think it’s a worthy endeavor for the spare time. I have a feeling if I worked from around 9 PM to 3 or 4  AM on Friday and Saturday that I could make major bucks. I can’t because it conflicts with the Richmond Tour Guys Walking Tour, Saturday and Sunday at 10:30 AM meeting near 500 Tredegar St. by the river in Richmond.

Yeah… I’m a bit of a shameless promoter.