Why You Have to Stop Networking If You Want to Succeed

Business relationships are critical for top-performing growth. These relationships don't just launch your career to new heights, though. Relationships are a means of cultivating ideas, encouraging collaboration, and contributing to the community in your industry.

But if you want to see true success in your business relationships, you need to stop networking.

The traditional idea of "networking" is transactional. Networking assumes that you are meeting fellow peers and industry players in order to get something in return--whether you're hoping to gain a client, a partner, a vendor, or a job. Networking denotes an idea of taking. The network relationship is only as strong as the amount of value you can provide to one another.

Young Entrepreneur Council founders Scott Gerber and Ryan Paugh have tackled this notion of networking to be more inclusive. What would happen if we looked at business relationships through the lens of "connection" instead? Connection creates a deeper relationship based on an exchange of information and ideas.

The goal of connection is not to further your own business or career but to provide ongoing value to the other person without expecting anything in return. When you provide value, you receive value in return.

In their new book Superconnector: Stop Networking And Start Building Business Relationships That Matter, Gerber and Paugh discuss what it means to be a superconnector like some of the greatest leaders, businesspeople, and communicators.

I learned you need to have these four traits to build successful relationships in your industry and beyond:

1. Emotional Intelligence

If you want to build a genuine relationship with another person, you have to first understand where they're coming from. What are they looking for? Where are they in their business and in their personal life?

You have to be a human talking to and interacting with another human, not a computer trying to transact with another computer.

I'm an extrovert, so I love talking to people and connecting quickly--but sometimes it can come on strong. I had to learn to acknowledge and react to introverts in a subtler way so we could connect. In reverse, if an introvert doesn't approach a conversation with the passion of an extrovert, an extrovert like me might have trouble connecting. 

Everyone is different and approaches connection differently. But if you want to foster an association with another person, you have to meet them where they are, understand their perspective, and respond with the same tone.

2. Self-Awareness

You need to know and understand your own psychology before you can truly be emotionally intelligent. This helps you understand how you operate and how you manage your interpersonal relationships. You'll be able to find your groove or flow when you embrace your strengths and weaknesses.

Understand in which kinds of environments you thrive, like big conferences or intimate meetings. Find your favorite openers or topics to start the conversation.

When you better understand your own authentic value, you place yourself in a better position to provide that value to others. When you provide value, you start to build deeper and more valuable connections.

The belief that only extroverts can be connectors is a myth. While extroverts get their energy from others, introverts are equally strong connectors. It's simply about building a sense of confidence and self-awareness to play on your own strengths.

3. Curiosity

You have to be curious about people, ideas, and business if you want to truly connect. Asking genuine questions provides you insight into the other person and their experience. When you're curious about that person, you can better understand what they need and where they are.

When you acknowledge the other person on this deeper level, you can better respond to them. You understand how to provide them with relevant and significant value that initiates a mutually beneficial relationship.

4. Productivity Systems

The best connectors in the world have a system of remembering, recalling, and interacting with others. The more people you meet, the harder it becomes to keep up with all of your connections. But you want to connect with as many people as you can to continuously give value and build your community.

So you need to build systems that allow you to remember each individual and their context. For example, Gerber and Paugh have their own set of notes that they jot down after meeting a new person. Gerber might write in his notes: "Ryan Paugh - co-wrote Superconnector, loves dogs, Penn State football fan." This is about Paugh, not about his work or what Paugh can provide to Gerber. 

I personally like to send a follow-up email after meeting someone to reiterate our conversation and save it for later.

Only through a personal, intimate relationship can you exchange true value and build an ongoing, fruitful relationship. 

6 Common Mistakes Even the Most Professional People Make at Networking Events

If you have attended a tech event or any event in which people are networking, you have most definitely encountered some of these mistakes, you may even be guilty of a few of them. I know I am.

Over the years, like many entrepreneurs, I have attended hundreds of tech events and conferences. Only in the past 24-48 months, can I say that I have truly leveraged these networking opportunities to build and amplify my business. Prior to that, I was doing it all wrong, with many of the points below sounding a bit too familiar.

Let's just jump right in.

1. Talking Someone's Ear Off

If someone calls you over to make an introduction at an event, let's say to an investor, that is an opportunity to connect, not an opportunity to chew off the ear of that investor for 30 minutes. Say hi, connect, state your elevator pitch, exchange business cards perhaps, and ask if it would be ok to send over more info.

If you stand there talking for 30 minutes, a few things will happen.

First of all you will bore the person.

Second, you will make things awkward because they want to go on to the next person. Or eat lunch. Or go home. Or get a drink. But they can't because you won't stop talking.

Third, the person who introduced you is literally just standing there. Bored. Awkward. And worst of all, they are instantly regretting introducing you. You stole their spotlight. You made them look bad. You missed the opportunity and ruined your chances not only with the investor or whoever you were being introduced to, but also the chances of the person who connected you, ever doing so again.

Be concise, straight to the point, and move on.

2. Pitching Like a Robot

Speaking of pitching, don't be robotic and rehearsed. Don't recite your pitch as if you're reading it off a paper. "We are revolutionizing X." "We are disrupting Y."

It is transparent when you just repeat your pitch over and over. Be personal. Be authentic. Mix it up. Be spontaneous.

People are better at picking up on this kind of thing than you might think and repeating the same sentence over and over is ineffective and even insulting.

3. Beating Around the Bush

If you want something from the person you are speaking to, state it. In the beginning. Be transparent and straight forward. Same is true for email. If you stand there pitching, and at the end of your monologue, the individual is not sure what to do with all the information you just gave them, that is both awkward and ineffective.

"I have an idea. I'd love your feedback."
"I have a startup. I want you to write about us" (Not a recommended sentence.)
"I have a question. I'd love to grab a cup of coffee. "

State up front what the ask is and you might just get what you want.

4. Failing on the Follow-Up

If you pitched someone at an event, chances are you are not the only one who pitched that person. Remember that. When following up the next day, say something for context. "I'm the guy who made the joke about the WiFi." "I'm the person you met by the entrance who grew up with your cousin." 

When you do send a follow up email, give the context of your meeting at the event. Give the context of your email. I have gotten a follow up to an event that was an email with 500 words and no ask; no context, and no explanation of why I was getting it. I had no idea what to do with it. I literally replied "Is there something specific I can help with or was that for an FYI?"

Want something? Say it. Up front. Be concise and transparent. Don't send a long email without giving the recipient a reason to read it.

"Hi Michael, we spoke yesterday about you giving me some advice about x. Here is more info."

"Hi Michelle, as mentioned, I'd love to meet some investors. Here is additional info about my venture."


5. Non-Stop Name-Dropping

We all name drop. It's a thing. It creates common ground, it establishes credibility.

If you spend most of the meeting name-dropping or listing your accomplishments when really, all you want to do is ask for some help, that help will never come. The person is thinking "Why are you telling me how great you are if you want my help? You seem to be doing just fine without me."

Validate yourself for a few seconds, then move on.

6. Enough About You

Start every meeting with "Tell me about you." Or "What are your bottlenecks?" Or "Tell me some more about your focus nowadays."

If you absolutely must start the meeting talking about yourself, then make sure to ask one of those questions a few minutes in.

People have a short attention span for others who only talk about themselves. On the flip side, just like you like talking about yourself, the person you are speaking to also wants to tell you about themselves. Allow them to do that, Draw them in.

Those are some guidelines for networking during and following the event. 

Networking is an art. Following up is a science. Do it right or don't do it at all.

I Felt Like an Imposter at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Until I Didn’t.

This week the annual gathering of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, takes place. Last year the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship invited my husband to attend, all expenses paid, which meant that I, as his spouse, was also invited.

I nearly said no, certain that I would only feel out of place among the heads of state, corporate leaders, policy wonks, and celebrities who typically attend.

As a fairly unknown writer and the spouse of the real attendee, I was prepared to feel shunned and looked down upon by those I encountered. Surely they would know that I didn't belong there.

No one was more surprised, then, when my week at the World Economic Forum turned out to be a complete delight. Despite my lack of prominence or wealth, I was accepted and engaged on a level I've rarely experienced.

By the end, I had learned several valuable lessons about how to make the most of spending a week with hundreds of people who seemed far out of my professional league.

1. Be free of preconceptions and assumptions.

Just as I didn't want people to write me off, it wasn't fair of me to make assumptions about others before talking to them. When I prejudge someone, I am less likely to approach them or try to engage them in meaningful conversation--which makes it that much more likely that I will miss out on a good connection.

Several of my best conversations at WEF came about because I decided to introduce myself to someone despite my hesitations.

That gruff man riding the trolley with me? The executive director of an international newspaper, who had fascinating observations about the state of American politics.

That quiet man bundled up under layers of coats and scarves? The president of a prestigious university in Asia, who shared his thoughts on the rising costs of education.

That reserved woman in the stylish pink dress in my breakout group? She turned out to be the queen of Belgium (seriously!)--and her contributions to the discussion were thoughtful and authentic.

2. Be curious about everyone you meet.

The vast majority of people I met at WEF had no obvious overlap with me. We were from different countries, cultures, industries, and socioeconomic backgrounds. And many were fairly regular people who, like me, considered themselves fortunate to be there.

But they all had fascinating perspectives to share, as long as I was willing to approach the conversation in a posture of listening and learning. Oftentimes just a few thoughtful questions about their work, their country of origin, or their experience at WEF were enough to open up a wide-ranging conversation that challenged my assumptions and broadened my understanding about how the world worked.

Everyone likes being asked about themselves and their opinions, whether they are well known or not. My interest in others created a bridge for us to connect in a mutually beneficial way.

3. Be confident that you have something to offer, even if it's no more than your personal story.

I was prepared to draw from my professional experience in the nonprofit, social enterprise, and public sectors to contribute discussions, and I did that when appropriate.

But the most meaningful exchange I had during the entire week--and one I remember vividly a year later--was when a British engineer and I shared how we had both lost a parent in childhood.

We debated whether technology should be used to bring back our lost loved ones (virtually or physically). The discussion delved into our personal pain and sorrow, as well as profound moral and ethical questions.

The conversation had almost nothing to do with our professional credentials and everything to do with our personal stories. Based on the weighty silence in the rest of the room, I'm pretty sure the conversation was memorable for everyone else as well.

If you approach others with an open and curious mind, and a willingness to share about yourself, chances are they will reciprocate in kind. And those personal connections are what will ultimately lead to positive and productive professional relationships.