I have to admit that I’m very selective when it comes to attending networking meetings. It’s not that I don’t enjoy meeting new people or reconnecting with people I already know; I do have to protect my time as I’m busy with seeing clients, teaching, and working on my business. But I’m finding it more and more that networking isn’t really geared to learning about each other, it’s become more about selling. Don’t get me wrong that we all aren’t out there to sell our services or products.
But when I attend a meeting where there are ‘regulars,’ is it really necessary to spend time on introductions and promoting what you do? Who are you actually selling or promoting to if I see you often? It’s preferable to let me know if you have a new product or service, or holding a workshops; I like it when you pass on resources that either I find valuable or will pass on to someone else. I’d like to get to know those attending on a deeper level – who they are, what they stand for, what are their interests, and the like. As we’ve heard, people will do business when they know, like, and trust you. If that ‘s the case, how I can I do that if all you’re doing is telling me about your product or service?
If you run a meeting, or plan to, here are some suggestions to help you have true networking meetings:
- I run a group meeting and like to open with an icebreaker, as this allows those attending to learn more about each other while breaking down walls or fears, especially for first time attendees. I find more bonding takes place, and more alignment, which then creates a fun and open environment where people want to learn more about each other outside of the meeting, which is where real conversations take place.
- It’s OK to place a time limit, but don’t make it the ‘elephant in the room’ and act like the time police. I know that there are people who have a lot to say about themselves, but make the topic more specific to keep in time, such as ‘Tell us one fact about your business,” then next week we’ll tell more. I find people tend to cram a lot of ‘stuff’ into a minute, so they talk fast which makes it difficult to focus on what they’re saying. Also, I find the focus is on what to say in a minute or two and not on the person speaking.
- Have someone in the group speak as this is the best way to show your expertise and help us to get to know you. Pick a topic from your specialty that would be compelling and educate us. Make it interactive by getting us working together, such as an activity, or asking us questions. This is more engaging and leaves attendees wanting to know more.
- Hold a mastermind, which is where the group works to share best business practices, offer resources, or help a group member to work through an idea or problem with their business. Masterminding can start out with either a topic that the group leader, or group member comes up with; another suggestion is to have a member be the focus, where they will discuss issues they are struggling with, or want help with, and allow members to help. It’s free coaching and is well-received.
- Let members network freely, meaning they can just start conversations, which isn’t that the point of a networking group?
Networking can be a great activity in one’s marketing basket but only if done right. Some people like the types of meetings that are structured, while other – like me – want a more open and fun-filled gathering. Maybe just adding one of these will make the meetings more compelling and gain more attendees who hear about them. Taking a survey of the group will help you to gauge how people are feeling as well as getting input from the group. It may take more than one or two meetings to truly get a feel but using one of these suggestions can make the most of a networking group.