Simply put, networking is adding value: Adding value to conversations, people or organizations. The most effective networkers are those who continually enrich contexts and constructs by being present, listening and co-creating shared visions. The least effective and borderline annoying ones are those who come with pre-set agendas and are hungry to “take” whatever they think is up for grabs and run away.
Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe in having goals and action-oriented conversations in professional contexts, especially if the person being addressed is insanely busy. That said, there is a difference between having goals and pushing your goals in unwarranted settings.
Recently I was at a private dinner with some illustrious guests – a former president from Western Europe, a Fortune 500 CEO, a Bollywood actor – to name a few. The topic being discussed was cyber security and cyber bullying. In the middle, someone mentioned mobile apps. That was the trigger for an entrepreneur sitting next to me to start talking incessantly about his company that also had a mobile app. It was off-putting, annoying and rude. He was obviously not listening. It is ironic how we expect people to listen to us when we don’t reciprocate. This person was not interested in adding value to the discussion. His single-point agenda was to talk about his startup and his strategy was “hope”.
I heard his pitch. To me, it seemed like a “me-too” product in a highly competitive landscape with an undifferentiated strategy to unsettle the incumbent player. But that’s fine. I am no authority on business strategy and sometimes it is hard to objective about things one is passionate about. I admired this individual’s passion but his “hope-driven” strategy baffled me. I just couldn’t figure out what help he wanted from the table apart from a “there there: polite nod”. Did he want endorsement/support from the actor, capital/strategic support from the CEO or incubation help from the former president?
Towards the end, he said that the dinner conversation was amazing and promptly gave everyone his visiting card. I don’t know about others, but I am surely not inviting him to Network Capital.
Lessons to keep in mind:
1. Value-addition is key to networking
2. If you want to be taken seriously, have a pointed “ask” and figure out a way to craft a “win-win” scenario
3. Listen, breathe, read