Business Networking – But Not the Hippopotamus

I am a pretty big fan of Sandra Boynton’s “But Not the Hippopotamus.” Primarily, because every time I say “But Not the Hippopotamus” my daughter giggles.  But it also reminds me of every business person I know when it comes to networking.

Spoiler alert – I may inadvertently give away the ending of BNTH. The crux of the story is that the poor hippopotamus sits on the sidelines as all the other animals have fun.  She never gets invited.  “But Not the Hippopotamus.”  Or so she thinks.  But then there is a turning point – the other animals say “Come, join us!”  She actually has to think for a moment “should I go?” before she rushes off to join the fun.  Yes, the Hippopotamus!

Many of us feel that when we go to a networking event that it is someone else’s job to break the ice, to include us.  We hover in a corner, staring at the ice cubes melting in our glass.  Networking sucks.  I have been there.

You Are What You Believe

When it comes to marketing, “You are what you believe.”  Let me explain.  If you don’t think you are any good at marketing, chances are that belief will permeate your efforts.  We tend to become self-fulfilling prophecies and look for validation of our beliefs.  If you think you suck at networking, then a bad networking experience will simply confirm that belief and you will be bad at it.

You have to change the dialogue in your head.  The good news is you can.  If we switch the inner voice (you know the one that sounds like your mother) to a more positive tone and repeat that positive message (these are called affirmations by the way), we can actually change our beliefs.  At first, it will feel strange because you haven’t bought into the new voice, but if you keep repeating it, it actually takes hold and you begin to believe.  I like speaking in public, I like speaking in public, I like speaking in public.  And then one day, you realize you actually like speaking in public.

Whether its networking or anything else you want in your life, you can use affirmations to achieve anything you set your mind to.  I love speaking German, I love speaking German, I love speaking German… OK, that one still needs some work.

Tips to Get You Started

I started seriously networking almost 20 years ago.  I had launched a new business a new venture with 2 friends and I was the business development guy.  Prior to that, I had a career in finance, primarily crunch numbers somewhere in the background.  This networking thing was a whole new world for me, and honestly not one I felt very comfortable with.  I was not used to selling myself.  Frustrated, I sought out solutions to become a better networker.  I attended Dale Carnegie‘sHow to Win Friends and Influence People and while it was originally written in 1936, the ideas still rang true.

Six Ways to Make People Like You

  1. Become genuinely interested in other people.
  2. Smile.
  3. Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
  4. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
  5. Talk in terms of the other person’s interest.
  6. Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.

The bottom line is people don’t want to be sold to.  They want to connect with another genuine human being.  Someone who expresses interest in what they have to say.  And that can be very rare.  Successful marketers don’t sell, they connect.

I’ve also been “the bear and the hare at the fair.”  Socializing with my peers, having a good time, making contacts – you know networking.  I am not ignoring you in the corner; I just busy working the room.  Maybe I don’t see you. Maybe I try to engage you and you shrink.  In all honesty, I am not going to work that hard to make it work and I will likely move on after some awkward small talk.

Here are some suggestions to get you going –

  • Get out of the corner – mingle and engage.  It’s much harder to approach a group of people chatting and engaged and trying to break in.  And in all honesty, when people have done this to me (and while I applaud their efforts) it tends to come off as rude.  Instead, look around the room.  find another corner dweller, they are just as hungry to make contact but are either shy or nervous.  This person will be thankful you made the first move.
  • Don’t lead with a sales pitch – You don’t know me, you don’t know my needs.  Don’t assume I need your product – an unsolicited sales pitch is like verbal spam.
  • Listen First – Ask me about me about my business, why I am here tonight, who I am trying to meet.  Then if you honestly believe you can add value, make a pitch.
  • Add Value – And remember –adding value doesn’t always mean trying to sell me your product.  Maybe, it’s an introduction to someone else in the room. Maybe it’s a referral.  I am more likely to remember you when you help me out then if you simply try to sell me.
  • Be Prepared – OK, this one I tend to be guilty of.  I have a successful interaction with someone and then they ask me for my business card.  I fish around in my pockets only to come up empty.
  • Set a Goal – How many new people will you talk to?  How many new business cards will you collect?  By setting a goal, you begin to measure the success of your efforts.  You will feel like you accomplished something.  I talked to 5 new contacts this evening.

If you are going to network – then make the most of it.  Building a network is about creating trust.  It’s about referrals.  Give to get.  This will make you a successful networker.  And before you know it – you too will be shouting – Yes, the Hippopotamus!

But not the Aardvark…

Business Networking – But Not the Hippopotamus

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