Column: When networking, make conversation, not a pitch
Photo by Maria Kaloudi
I almost cheered out loud when I read this in an article by Michael Port. In the article, Port talked about how most people don't like to listen to or give the dreaded "30-second commercial" or "elevator pitch" that has become such a staple of modern networking. He makes an excellent point that the best way to convey information about our business and our needs is in the course of normal conversation.
It's a great article and goes into some of the history of the practice and why it is wholly inappropriate for most networking purposes. Go check it out yourself.
This points to a more general concept regarding networking techniques.
All of the networking techniques we've ever touched on are meant only as guidelines. We should never, ever use them to force our interactions with others to fit a specific mold. Most people will not respond to this. Why? Because it's not a natural way to develop a relationship.
Let's look, as an example, at the INFER technique. This is a mnemonic I teach designed to remind us to ask questions about different areas of the other person's life. If we are chatting with someone companionably and there aren't any lulls in the conversation, probably one of the worst things we could do is stop the communication cold so that we can fill out the "INFER form". I can almost hear the exchange now:
"... So, there we were, trying to get our phones back online, when, in fact, it was the donkey all along!"
"Oh, very funny! But this isn't helping me fill in my INFER form's Future Focus section. What goals do you have for the upcoming year?"
Of course, if there is a gap in the conversation, then we can use INFER as a tool to restart things and maybe find out more specific information which will help us strengthen the relationship, but we should never assume that we can force a natural, friendly chat to follow a scripted path meant to make finding out about another person as efficient as possible.
At the base of everything in networking is the relationship. If what we do strengthens it, then it's good networking practice. Trying to force an interaction to follow a script that we've created doesn't fall under that rubric. So let's leave the scripts to actors and instead, just be real.