The formula to be less awkward and build powerful connections

By Paul Milano

I used to hate networking events

 

Not because I didn’t see the value in them, building connections is an incredibly important and valuable thing to do.   I was just awkward and terrible at it anytime I went to events or meetups.

Here’s how it used to go, I would stroll into the event and someone would approach me:

Them: “Hey, nice to meet you what’s your name?”
Me: “Paul”

Them: “So what do you do?”
Me: “I work at…*insert incredibly boring, incoherent rambling here*”

Me: “What about you?”

Them: “Well, I work as a Project Manager for so and so company.”

Me: “Cool”

Them: “Cool...Well, I’m going to grab a drink.”

This person then proceeds to excuse themselves move onto someone else.

Very smooth. It’s like a date gone terribly wrong.

Where I live now in San Francisco, there are more meetups and networking events every single day then one could ever hope to go through.

Being a techy hub, there are lots of events on software development, artificial intelligence, product management and bitcoin to other ones about entrepreneurship and resume building.

And my favorite one I came across on Meetup

 

Epic board games and espresso… win win.

 

I’ve been to a lot of them, much terrible, some great.

Believe it or not, there is a formula for how to approach these events and how to build strong connections. I’ve learned it after attending dozens of events over the past years and learning how to avoid typical conversations like above.

These are techniques the best networkers I have ever met all use on how to productively approach networking events so you don’t waste your time and leave a powerful impression on others. It makes you stand out and if you keep using them even after you’ve made that first connection it can help you build truly meaningful and lasting connections going forward.

Here’s how to build your army of connections.

1. Don’t bother with traditional networking mixers.

These are events that are specifically for the purpose of networking and meeting others. There is no main speaker or presentation on any topic.

It’s a completely random mix of people from all different sorts who are all most likely looking to push their personal agenda.

I have never had great experiences at events like this.

Instead, go to events where there are speakers and a presentation about a topic that you’re interested in learning more about or want to grow your skills in.

This ensures two things.

1. You will at least (hopefully) learn something useful if nothing else.
2. The people there will have similar interests and goals to you that make it far easier to have conversations and support each other with.

 

2. Don’t approach it like a speed dating game

This right here is my biggest pet peeve with most networking mixer events. A lot of people, unfortunately, approach it like it’s some sort of professional speed networking game.
Who can have the most useless and uneventful conversations in the shortest amount of time whilst trying to push their own agenda of why they came.

People will come up to you, explain what they do, ask what you do and as soon as they realize you have nothing to offer them or they have nothing they can sell you on they move on to the next.

I understand why people think this is a good idea, but you won’t remember this person and probably won’t think that highly of them either.

Don’t be that person, instead, let’s do something different.

 

3. Aim to make a few strong connections

Instead of going in trying to talk to as many people as possible, aim to make only a few strong connections.

Talk about something other than your career or business. Everyone else will be doing this, so you can stand out by doing something different.

This is one reason why it also helps to read lots of books and materials on many different interesting topics instead of just one. The more you know about the world around you, the more interesting conversations you can have.

My friend Stuart Knight from Toronto has a great analogy and book on this.

Think of conversations like peeling back layers on an onion. The deeper you can go the more the person will remember you and feel connected with you.

The goal is to engage and ask questions about the person to reach new levels of conversation.

This is how you build deeper, lasting friendships as opposed to more fluffy connections. Bypass all that shallow high-level stuff. You won’t remember where everyone there works, but you will remember the funny story, advice or conversation that was about something totally different.

They’ll be plenty of time to get into the business and career conversations with them later on if you do this right.

Focus on just building a strong connection first.

 

4. Be seen as someone incredibly resourceful or helpful

When engaging with people at the event, listen to them on any problems they may have.

If you have or know any resources you can send to help them, then get their email, LinkedIn or Facebook and sent it over. Or if you know someone who could help them don’t be afraid to make the introduction.

As a plus, you’ve now got their connection info as well.

Being known as someone useful and resourceful is only a positive for you. These people will think highly of you and want to reciprocate it back.

I’ve been to events and met up with folks who helped me out when I explained to them what I was working on. They sent me resources or made an introduction to someone who was happy to help.

What do you think my opinion of these folks was?

Incredibly high! I’ve never forgotten people who have done things like this for me and it has almost always led to much longer lasting relationships.

Helping out others (instead of looking to push your own product on them) is one of the most powerful things you can do.

  1. Don’t bother with traditional networking mixers, go to events instead.
  2. Don’t approach it like a speed dating game. Listen to others more instead of trying to pitch or sell yourself.
  3. Aim to make a few strong connections instead of talking to everybody there
  4. Find ways you can help out the people you talk too, they will think incredibly highly of you and want to help back.

It may seem counterproductive to give out your help and assistance for free but the universe has a way of balancing itself out…

Of all the points on here, this is the most important one. Plus helping out someone else to accomplish something just makes you feel incredibly happy.

Try it out the next event you go to and let me know how it goes.


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