Unless you’re Meg Whitman, Howard Schultz, Larry Page, Marissa Mayer or another Captain of industry you, my friend, are a challenger brand. And, if you want to build your personal brand you need to embrace this truth and market yourself like the challenger you are.
Living in the dawn of the digital era, it’s easy to forget how important it is to make real, living, breathing social connections. In the professional world, it’s called networking.
It’s tempting to connect on LinkedIn and call it good because it’s easy. But, LinkedIn is just a tool and no tool will ever supplant the value of human connections made in person. If you want to build your personal brand you’ll need to get out and press the flesh, as they say.
One of the cornerstones of challenger branding is out-thinking the competition. In today’s blog, we share some of the best collective thinking on Brand You through personal networking.
How to Approach in-Person Networking
Before the Event
It was Ben Franklin who famously said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Fortunately, for Brand You, most people don’t put forth the effort to properly prepare themselves to take full advantage of personal networking opportunities. This is where challengers think differently.
The first rule of networking like a challenger: Get the attendee list in advance. If you’re walking into a room cold, you are putting yourself at an immediate and unnecessary disadvantage. You can get a giant head start on the competition by getting smart about the people in the room before you walk through the door. And, that’s never been easier to do thanks to the boundless research capacity of the Internet and the near ubiquitous use of online invitations.
When you find the list of names for the event you’ll be attending, do some research to learn more about the people who will be there. A simple Google search usually does the trick. After identifying individuals of particular interest – your target list – your goal is to figure out how you might establish a mutually beneficial relationship them.
The second rule of networking like a challenger: Think “we” not “me.” This is a little counterintuitive for most people. As opposed to focusing your energy on how these people might help you, ask yourself how you might be able to help them. Making connections is easier when you are authentically other-oriented. People can sense your disposition in this respect and you will also be able to quickly discern who is interested in reciprocating and who isn’t. Spend your time with those who seem to understand the rule of reciprocity.
Keeping this in mind, here are some important questions to ask prior to attending any event:
- Are the attendees influential?
- Do they work in your industry or one of interest to you?
- Can you help them?
- Can they help you?
At the Event
Networking events are all about engagement. Your goal is to get engaged in meaningful exchanges with as many of the people you’ve targeted as you can. You’ll need a smooth approach for moving into conversations with strangers. This is intimidating territory for most people, but there are tactics that make the task easier.
For example, when you’re trying to introduce yourself, it’s not a good idea to walk up to just two people you don’t know who are having a conversation. That feels like an interruption. Instead, look for three or more people who are conversing. Believe it or not, doing this makes it seem less interruptive, which paves the way for a welcoming reception.
Try these tactics, too:
1) Know exactly whom you want to approach at the event, and be sure to establish specific goals for what you want to get out of conversations with each person.
2) Build confidence for starting conversations by striking up discussions with other lone attendees (if you’ve come alone, that is).
3) Do your homework and look into the event’s history so you can ask smart questions and show up like an informed group member.
4) If you see someone you really admire, don’t approach him or her as a fawning fan; instead, present yourself as the confident peer you are – or seek to become – by offering a relevant, stimulating conversation-starter. Think through these starters as part of your preparation process.
5) In the event a conversation loses steam, casually cue whomever you’re speaking with to tell you more about themselves. They’ll be pleasantly surprised by your interest because most people just aren’t.
6) Listen carefully for opportunities to demonstrate your ability to help the person you’re speaking with in some way and move the discussion toward that topic. This is where connections are made, and you’ll know when you’re connecting.
7) If the conversation’s going nowhere or you simply cannot develop rapport, end the conversation gracefully and move on quickly to your next target.
8) Regardless of the quality of the conversation, spend no more than 5 to 10 minutes with an individual if you want to get the most out of the opportunity presented by the event.
9) Finally, go to school on body language. Sometimes people don’t tell the truth, but their bodies never lie. If you understand how to interpret non-verbal communication you’ll be ahead of the game. Check out, “What Every Body Is Saying” by former FBI interrogation expert, Joe Navarro. Read it before your next networking event!
After the Event
So, the event was a success and you made some great new connections. If that’s all that happens you really haven’t done much to build your network or your personal brand at all. Quality follow-up is critical. Don’t rest on your laurels and think that people will get in touch with you after the event even if they say they will. Seize control of the opportunity and be sure to get their card so you can maintain control of communication and follow up with them later. Follow up in any way that’s effective, whether that’s by email, through social media, or with a good old-fashioned phone call. If you really want to separate yourself for the pack, send them a hand-written note. And, include something of value to them in your follow-up communication.
The whole point of doing this work is to build a network of enduring, mutually beneficial relationships. There are any number of ways a strong network can benefit you and your career. Just remember, building your personal brand is not about expanding the circle of people you know, it’s about expanding the circle of people who know you.