The Art of Communication podcast transcript:
Episode 3: Don’t You Just Love Networking?!
Hello, this is Sian Hansen and welcome to The Art of Communication podcast. I’m here with Robin Kermode.
And this episode is Don’t you just love networking? Robin, what do you think networking is?
Well, most people don’t like networking. The reason people don’t like it is they feel that they have to network as opposed to just talk to people. If you said, we’re having a party, you go, that’s great but a lot of people think, Oh, I’m going to a networking event. If you said I’m going to a party, it’s not an issue. So I think it’s that people don’t behave naturally at these events, which is why they’re weird. And they’re dedicated networking events for specific industries, so you tend to find a lot of doctors in the room, a lot of lawyers in the room, a lot of accountants in the room. And that I think is also a weird dynamic, to be honest, because you’re all talking about the same thing. And there’s an element of competition about it as well, I think.
Oh, of course, so getting into the purpose of networking. Why should we network?
Well, we want to network because what we want to do is to meet other people who may be able to help us in our business. And that’s a perfectly natural thing to do. It’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do. And it’s perfectly reasonable for us and for other people to do. The problem is that if you have a roomful of people all trying to sell themselves, it’s weird. Success for a lot of people, at the end of a networking event, is having handed out a certain number of business cards. Whether or not that leads to anything, but somehow just by the act of handing out the business cards, suddenly they feel they’ve built a network. But that’s not a network that’s just handing out business cards.
And there’s a social reason for networking. I mean, it’s not always about businesses, is it?
If you’re in a particular industry, you might have come across people, but you might not necessarily have met them. You might have come across them on websites, on webinars, in emails, but you won’t necessarily have met them. So going to a networking event is a real opportunity to put a face to the name. And once you’ve chatted to somebody face to face, your next encounter, even if they continue for the next five years by email, you’ve made that connection.
And that goes back to one of your other podcasts about making that connection, making that human connection. And that’s what this is all about.
Exactly. But you can’t make a connection if everybody is selling because everyone’s on transmit. Just like in a battery, you have to have a positive and a negative to make the energy flow. If everyone’s on positive or everyone’s on negative, it can’t possibly work.
So we’re going to an event, many people start panicking at this very moment. OK, let’s just start with the idea that you have to go to this event alone. How do you prepare before you even walk in the door?
First of all, we want to look at the nerves. We’ve done a whole podcast on nerves. And obviously there are certain breathing techniques you can do, you can breathe into your lower stomach to calm yourself down. And these kinds of things, I would say another nice thing to do actually, is to make sure that you’re wearing something you feel good in. Because if you wear an outfit that you feel good in, that’s going to help. The other thing that I often do is I play music on my phone through my headphones before I go to an event. Depending on the mood I’m in, I put on some music that makes me laugh, makes me smile, energizes me, calms me down, depending on where I am. Music sets the tone for me before I go to the event. But I would say about the music. It’s not just about having music that uplifts you, because it implies that somehow you have to go into the room and make an impression. Actually, what we want to do is we want to go into the room and we want to have a conversation with somebody. We did a podcast on pitching, and what we discovered there was that no sale should feel like a sale. And the same way here, networking shouldn’t feel like you’re selling yourself. But, of course, you are selling yourself but you’re doing it in a much more subtle way. So what we have to do, first of all, is to think I’m not trying to sell myself here, I’m just trying to connect with people. If you happen to connect with people then that might lead to them using you or your business later on. So the first mindset is, we don’t have to go in and make an impression. What we have to do is go in and find somebody to talk to, if we’re on our own, as you said, so we could do some breathing, we can listen to the music. And the other thing we want to do then is, we want to maybe have a couple of subjects in our head that we could talk about. Or a couple of questions we could have that maybe have arisen during the day. You know, did you see this article? Did you hear that? So topical things. We could pre think these because now we go in armed with something. We’re not just floundering thinking I don’t know what to talk about.
So we’ve prepared ourselves because we’ve done some breathing and we’ve listened to some music. And we’ve thought about some questions that we want to open with, some general questions.
Which we may or may not use, but what we don’t want to do is to stand there floundering.
So, in a very practical sense, you’ve walked into the room, you’re on your own, do grab a drink? How do you go and find that first person you’re going to talk to?
Well, I’ve had to learn this myself. If you go into a room, the temptation is you think I’ll get a glass of something because then you have something in your hands and you don’t feel so exposed. So you tend to go to the trays, you grab a glass of wine, or elderflower, or whatever it is, then stand there with your glass, looking around. And you think, who do I join? There’s a group of people over there, do I join the group? Or will they shun me? And there’s a single person, do I go and talk to the single person? But you’ve then got to make a move from a standing position to actually go. And if you see somebody standing on their own, and you want to go talk to them, they’ve probably seen you standing there looking at them. So they now see a conscious decision from you to decide to then come over, and the whole thing becomes a bit forced. Much better, I think, to go in there and before you pick up your glass, you look around, you see someone on their own and think, right, I’m going to go straight up to that person. So you get your glass, you take it off the tray, and in one movement, you go straight up to them, with no hesitation.
So do you think it’s easier to approach somebody on their own than it is a group of people? I mean, what’s the difference?
I tend to join somebody on their own because unless I know a group, they’re less likely to shun you. You know, sometimes if you join a group, you get the feeling that they’re having a private conversation, they don’t really want you to join. But if you’re joining a group, there’s one failsafe comment. I just walk up to them, and say, Hello, I’m Robin, can I join the party? And very few people go, No, you can’t actually. And if they do say that, I tend to laugh.
I must admit that if I see two people talking together, and they’ve got a really intense conversation going on, I won’t approach them. But if it’s three or more than I will. Does that sound about right?
You’re absolutely right. And I think you’re talking about the body language, if the body language of two people is very close, rather like an intimate conversation, you think I won’t do that. But if the conversation is quite an open semicircle of several people, not really talking about anything specific, you can join them. But if you’ve got somebody on their own, you want to go up to them. What do you say? What I tend to say is, Hello, my name is Robin, I don’t know anybody here, do you? Most of the time, they’re going to say, No, I don’t actually, Hello, I’m Sarah, John, Peter, whatever it is, now you have a shared experience, which is why you’re both at this event, and you don’t know anybody.
Oh, see found something in common straight away.
Yes, so it’s not so threatening. And you know, I’ve never gone to an event and said to somebody, Hello, I’m Robin, I don’t know anyone, do you? And they’ve turned around and said, Yes, I know, everyone here, you loser! Nobody’s ever said that. Right? And the answer is they’re standing on their own. So they probably don’t know any people there. Or they may say I’m waiting for my friend and I say, Oh, great. What does your friend do? And then of course, a conversation starts and then you’re off.
Now, when you you’re in a conversation, and you’re networking, is there anything that you shouldn’t say? Is it any question you shouldn’t ask?
I was brought up to understand that there are several things you never talk about in public with people you don’t know. You don’t talk about religion, money, and you don’t talk about politics. Now. I suspect with the world at the moment, probably politics is on the table for most people. Money, you don’t really want to go up to someone and go, Hi, I’m Robin, you know, I earned 15 million last year.
But you can talk about money in the abstract, I suppose in terms of the economy?
Yes, or even what would you do if you won the lottery? I mean, these kinds of questions. I think if somebody walked straight up to me and said, Hi, you know, I’m Jane, what would you do if you win the lottery? I think I was taking part in some survey. So these are subsequent questions. They’re not opening questions, opening questions would be, have you been to an event like this before? Have you heard the speaker before? These kinds of questions?
I’m curious how you remember a name?
Well, I used to be an actor, of course, in my previous life. Now, it was very easy because everyone calls each other Darling. So that’s fine. And there’s a reason that actors do that. Because if you can’t remember their name. And if you’re introducing them to somebody else you can say, Darling, do you know Darling? But the hardest thing I think is when you have to introduce that person to somebody else who isn’t an actor. Often you can carry on quite a long conversation like this, Hello, nice to see you. How are you? All this sort of stuff.
But then somebody joins you. And you can’t remember their name and they say, Oh, will you please introduce us?
Yes. Now, there’s one trick that I have used in this case. So I’m talking to say, Sarah Jones, but I can’t remember Sarah Jones’s name. And then somebody says, So will you please introduce me? I would say something like, I’m so sorry. I can’t remember your surname. Now, then she’s going to say, oh, it’s Sarah Jones. But if I said to them, I’m sorry I can’t remember your name. It’s quite rude. But if you say, I’m so sorry, I can’t remember your surname, very rarely is she going to say, It’s Miss Jones, or Mrs. Jones. Very rarely. And then even if they did say that, I would probably say, Well, clearly, this is Mrs. Jones, and you’d use it as an ironic reply with a smile. But I think that’s one of the easiest ways to get out of that one.
Yes, and then, of course, if a person is joining your group, if you know their name, what you can do is you can say, This is Maryann Stevens. Let me introduce her to all of you and just do a general sweep with your hand
And allow them to introduce themselves, yes. I always introduce myself. Always. I just think there’s nothing more embarrassing for somebody than not remembering your name. And I know what it’s like on the other side. So I always come up and I say, Hello, it’s really nice to see you again. I’m Robin. Then they say, Well, of course, Robin, lovely. I know in their head, they’re going, Thank goodness he told me because I wasn’t sure. So you’re always helping them out.
How long do you stand and talk to the first people that you’ve engaged with at the party?
Okay, this is another whole minefield, isn’t it? Do you get stuck with one person all evening? Or do you move on?
I was saying in a very polite way. But yes, you can get stuck. What do you do?
Yes. But interestingly, both of you are probably thinking, it would be quite nice if we moved on and met other people. So sometimes you can be bold and say, It’s been a great pleasure to meet you. I’ve really enjoyed talking to you, we’ve both come to meet lots of people, so I’ll let you go and meet some others. And actually, inside they thinking, that’s quite nice. You’ve done that for me. So I think we can take the initiative here and do that. One other tip about leaving people is never to have a full glass. So that if the waiter comes around and is offering to fill you up, just keep it low, because then later on, you can say, I’m going to get a refill. Can I get you one? And they often say, No, I’m fine. And then of course, you now have an exit. Or you can go with them to the bar area. And then you can always lose them at the bar by meeting other people.
I was at a drinks party the other day. And I suppose it was more networking. Somebody said to me, one of the best ones I’ve ever heard, Oh, I just noticed that there’s someone leaving who I need to speak to. Do you mind if I catch them before they leave? I thought that was a brilliant one.
Oh, that’s very good. Because that’s not saying, Excuse me, I have to leave. Because then if you’re still there, an hour later, they think you didn’t really want to leave and were just using that as an excuse. But if you say, I had to catch my friend, that’s very good. I like that one.
Yes. So you’re moving from one conversation to another seamlessly? You’re breaking it off after how long do you think? I mean, how long is too long?
Well, it’s a bit like how long is a piece of string? It really depends on what you want to get out of the networking event. Sometimes you go to an event, and think there’s a particular person you want to meet, you know, a particular industry specialist. So you think, I just want to have a couple of minutes with that person to connect with them. In which case, then, obviously, you have to keep an eye on the time. Sometimes you go along and you think, well, I’ll just meet some new people. If I meet some nice people, that’s great. And then who knows where it might lead? What I have discovered, though, is that the contacts that I thought were going to lead to work often don’t, and the ones where you think, I don’t think this person could ever give me a job, but I’m talking to them at some networking event, and we get on quite well. Often, they’re the people that say, I can’t hire you myself but I’ve got a friend who might well need your help.
And that’s probably because when you met them, you were much more yourself. Without selling yourself. Yes, this goes back to what you were saying earlier.
Yes, so if you have a roomful of people all selling themselves, everyone’s on transmit. Conversations at networking events tend to go like this. You do the names, then you say, What do you do? I’m an accountant. What kind of accountancy? Which firm? How long have you been there? Basically, you’re trying to pigeonhole somebody in their career. But I use the word love in the second sentence, every time. Somebody says to me, I’m an accountant. And I say, What is it you love about being an accountant? And then what normally happens is they say, Well, I used to like, now I’m not sure if I do! Or whatever. Now you have a proper conversation. Or if somebody says, I’ve just bought this new car or I’m just going on holiday somewhere, I said, What is it you love about that place? What is it you love about that car? Or they say no, I’ve got five children. What do you love having five children? And they say, well actually, sometimes it’s very tiring, or whatever it is. But the word love tends to start a human conversation. Whereas if you just pigeonhole people through their careers, it’s very difficult to then move on beyond that, because they go, So you’ve been an accountant for 10 years, that firm. Okay, and then where do you take it on from that?
Yes, it’s a bit like when speaking to a child, don’t ever say, What do you want to be when you grow up? Maybe ask, What problems can you see in the world? And how would you like to solve them? Or something like that, which is more open ended.
But that also implies that you actually want to listen to the answer. Yes. So the first thing about networking, of course, is also if you ask a questions, you have to listen to the answer. And then one thing I was taught when I was very young, is that when you leave a conversation, rather than just saying, it’s been very nice to meet you, if you can listen out for one fact that they’ve said during the conversation, which you can then you repeat back to them when you leave. So for example, if somebody said, We’re going on holiday to a particular place, or I’ve got a job interview next week, or whatever it is, when you leave them you say, It’s been a great pleasure to meet you. Good luck with your job interview next week, or I hope you have a lovely holiday. And what that does is it shows you been listening. Yes, it’s a rather classy exit as well.
So what is a successful outcome at the end of a networking event? Let’s say, I don’t know, maybe you have five business cards? Is that enough? When do you know when to leave?
I think the successful outcome from a networking event is have you made a connection with somebody, or some people, who will take your call or will read your email down the line. That’s all after is the point of a networking event. It’s not the time to sell. I’ve seen so many people actually go straight into the sales pitch at a networking event. That’s the wrong time. All you’re doing is you’re creating a connection. So that down the line, you can phone them and say I don’t if you remember we met at that drinks party, I thought this might interest you. That kind of thing. And as a follow up, I think one of the interesting things to do is to email them with something that again is not a sale. So you could say, I thought you might be interested in this article. Now you’ve got a double connection. Then the third time you get in touch with them, you can then say, Would you be interested in my product?
Well, that’s really interesting. So how quickly do you follow up? Like, when you’re in the taxi? You’re on the tube on the way home? Do you send it then? Or when do you send it?
Well, I have to say, sometimes I’ve done it in the taxi on the way home, I think it looks a little keen. I would say the next day. One thing that I have started to do is on the back of business cards, if people give me their cards, is I write down on the back of the card, something about that person, so I can remember who they are. So I would say, you know, tall, thin with glasses, or wore a pink tie, or wear a yellow dress, this kind of thing is helpful. Or I may, for example, write, yellow dress, buying a new house next week, this kind of thing. So then when I follow up, I can remember who that person was.
And when you get in front of your computer the next day, and you’re constructing, did you say an email? Is that the best way to follow up an email?
Well, it depends on how you’ve left it. If you said, Maybe we should speak further, or let’s arrange to have a coffee, if you’ve actually arranged something, then you could probably call them to say, you know, Shall we put that in the diary? It would depend on who the person was.
Robin, I’ve got to ask you this? Do you enjoy networking?
Do you know? It’s a really good question. I used to hate it. And now I love it. And you know why? Very simply because when I first started, I used to think I had to sell myself, I used to think I have to prove to everybody, and slightly big myself up because everyone else was doing that. So I felt that was the right thing to do. I felt I was trying to say to people, this is my offering, this is what I do. If you ever need help in this, here’s my card. And I thought I was being rather good building a business. But actually, I think I was probably being a bit pushy in the in the early days. Now, I go to these events. And I think I’m just going to chat to some people. I never ever think of it as possibly getting a client. And you know what, I nearly always get a client, because I’m not selling. So for me networking event is just a chance to go and meet some nice people with no further view at all. And if it does lead to something else. Fantastic.
For me, networking is one of those great pleasures because you walk into a room full of strangers. And these strangers all have stories to tell and mysteries to solve. And just meeting all these new people I think is just wonderful.
It is. I think a lot of people who are not necessarily gregarious find that difficult, because they think it’s an effort to have to be nice and have to ask questions. I can see why some people still feel it’s hard work. It’s like pushing a boulder up a hill, I can feel that. But on the other hand, when I walk in, I look around I find somebody on their own. Then I get my glass and I walk up to them. I think there are a lot of people in this room who hate networking and all I have to do is to give them a nice evening. I make their evening easy because I ask them lots of questions and I listened to their answers. I show lots of interest, and as a result, they like me. I liked them anyway. And so life is easy.
Robin thank you so much. Another wonderful podcast. So it’s goodbye for me.
And it’s goodbye from. For more information on my online Public Speaking Masterclass, visit robinkermode.com