Think networking feels dirty? Then you’re not doing it right, says Ken Morse, serial entrepreneur and chairman of Entrepreneurship Ventures, a group that offers skills workshops for business owners.
“People mistakenly believe that networking is the act of selling yourself, and it doesn’t work when you think it’s about you,” he explains. “Networking is successful when the interaction is about the other person. You may be selling your company and the solutions you offer, but it should never be about you.”
Calling it a science, not an art, Morse says even shy and introverted people can learn networking. He taught a class at MIT Sloan School of Management where he showed engineering students how to turn a cocktail party into a chance to impress investors and customers.
“Success requires thorough preparation and a clear strategy to make the most of an interaction, which could only be a minute,” says Morse. “A minute with the CEO of a major company can be the most valuable minute of the year.”
Morse offers eight rules for navigating business-related events and making connections that can lead to deals:
Before the event, determine who will be there and who you want to meet. If the event has a program, read it cover to cover.
“If you’ve got your sight on a CEO, use your alumni network to find someone who works at the company for more background,” says Morse. “A CEO’s assistant, someone who usually travels with the person, is also a valuable source.”
Know what you want to say and keep it brief and tantalizing.
“For example, ‘Would you be willing to speak with me for one minute if I could cut your time to market by six months and improve your bottom line by $10 million?’” suggests Morse. “Who doesn’t have a minute? It works, but you have to look sharp and be credible.”
Use the time to review the name tags to see who’s coming. If you’re looking forward to meeting someone specific, wait outside for the person to arrive.
“I like to get there early enough to be helpful to the host,” says Morse, who also suggests asking the host what they hope to gain by hosting the event. “They probably have an objective and you might be able to help.”
Be sure people can see you, says Morse. Avoid areas where the lighting is low. “You want to avoid the dark zone,” says Morse. “It’s for losers.”
Too often people hang out at the bar, but that’s the worst place to stand at an event, says Morse.
“The bar is like a transaction; you go in, get a drink and get out,” he says. “It’s a terrible thing to block the bar. Food, however, is a process. Studies find that a person’s endorphin levels are up when they are around food, therefore, they are more likely to be open to conversations.”
After a speech, audience members swarm the stage and you’re unlikely to get meaningful time with the person. Morse says you can determine how early a speaker will arrive by how far he or she travels.
“Ten minutes for every thousand miles that they fly,” he estimates. “If they’ve come a long way, they are early, already set up, and they’ve got nothing to do. It’s a perfect time to speak with them.”
Being introduced by someone else can be powerful. Morse suggests having a colleague introduce you, providing a bit of your background that might interest the other person.
“This improves your stature, because someone else is vouching for your expertise,” says Morse.
You’ll be most successful if you get people talking about what’s important to them, says Morse.
“People are much more interested in their life story than yours, so save your breath and draw them out,” Morse says, suggesting that you prepare a question like ‘What did you like best about this conference today?’