I don't know about you, but I find most networking groups to be exceedingly boring, unproductive and, in some cases, cringe-inducing.
I'm not generally a fan of networking groups. I'm not sure people get much new business out of them. Still, they have their upside. They can be great places to find people who do not compete with you but serve the same customers that you do. For example, if you sell high-end jewelry, your local Lexus dealer could give you tons of solid advice on selling to the top 1 percenters.
They could also be a source of moral support when times are tough and you are beginning to succumb to the heebie-jeebies about your business and its future. Knowing that other people in your community are in the same boat could help you get a perspective on your problems, or at least a grip on your emotions.
But most people who belong to networking groups have a lot to learn about networking effectively. I frequently speak to networking groups when promoting my latest book or video product. Inevitably, when I walk into a meeting, I am confronted by a slobbering idiot who presses his business card into my hand and starts yammering about all the stuff he sells (which, more often than not, is life insurance).
If you are a member of a networking group or a member invites you to attend a group meeting as a guest, here are five tips:
Manage Up, Not Down. When you are introduced to someone, ask yourself: Does this person have more to offer me than I have to offer him? In every networking group, there are two types of people: those who can help you get where you want to go and those who want you to help them get where they want to go. You want to spend as much time as possible with the first group of people.
If Someone Wants to Give You Their Business Card, Make Them Work. How do I deal with the slobbering life insurance guy who wants to give me his card before knowing anything about me? Easy. I simply refuse to accept his card. I say something like "Look, I know business cards are cheap, but I really don't want yours until I know for sure you can do something to help me out or I can do something to help you out. Let's get to know each other a little bit. If I like what I hear, I will be happy to take your card."
Most people will be stunned when you take this approach. You have to be careful not to appear condescending or snobbish, but the right ones will understand that you take these meetings very seriously and respond in kind. If they just stand there and keep slobbering, move on.
Ask People About Their Competitive Advantage. When someone at a networking group tells me what they do for a living, I frequently interrupt them by saying something like "Oh, you sell life insurance? I know lots of life insurance people, as you can imagine. But I'm always looking for a perfect fit for my clients. What do you do better than anyone else in your profession? What type of client falls in your sweet spot? What types of people or situations should I be referring to you that I shouldn't be referring to anyone else?"
Schmooze With the Speaker, but Do It Right. Often, the speaker is the most influential person in the room and everyone rushes the lectern after he finishes his talk.
I hate to break this to you, but if when meeting the speaker you grab his hand in a death grip, look him straight in the eye, exclaim "Great information!" and then proceed to bore him with whatever it is you do for a living, he will not be impressed. He will think you're an idiot who didn't listen to a single word he said.
To impress a speaker, ask a question that shows him you actually listened to what he said, or tell a story that shows how something he said relates to your business. Begin by saying, "You know, Cliff, what you said about X is really true in my business; you really hit home there." Speakers love to be stroked, but they hate to have their rear end kissed. Know the difference.
Be Memorable. When I speak at a meeting, I come home with dozens of business cards. I put them on my desk, where they stay for days, or sometimes weeks, while I catch up on other work. At some point, I go through the deck and input some -- a select few -- into my Outlook contacts folder. If I can't remember who you are, your card won't make the cut.
If you do nothing else at networking meetings, be sure to tell someone a story or behave in a certain (positive) way that will stick in their head.
Cliff Ennico (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a syndicated columnist, author and former host of the PBS television series "Money Hunt." This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state. To find out more about Cliff Ennico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit our webpage at www.creators.com.