Networking events are a great way for SME businesses to gain recognition and contacts. As the business owner or Director, putting yourself ‘out there’ should be part of your marketing strategy, yet many people dread networking events and fail to get the most out of them.
One way to combat this fear is to recognise the different behaviours seen in people who attend these events (both in yourself and others) and understand how to deal with this behaviour.
Three of the main types of people you will see are sharks, sheep and bunnies.
We’ve all met them. These are the people who LOVE networking and think they are great at it. The truth is they are far from it as their approach is predatory and they see the event as a room full of people to be sold to rather than possible connections and business relationships.
Distinctive behaviour – the shark will not be afraid to break into a group or discussion and introduce themselves. They rarely ask you who you are apart from questions to find out if you are likely bait or not. They do not understand that effective networking is all about finding out about the other person, what they are looking for and seeing if there is any common ground. They only see a potential sale and will talk at you pressing business cards and brochures into your hand whether you seem interested or not.
How to deal with sharks – it is very difficult to modify the behaviour of a shark so your best action is to get rid of them. Don’t be afraid to move them on with a ‘let me introduce you to Chris, he does ….’ And then walk swiftly way. If you can move them onto another shark then even better!
You see this a lot where people are sent to networking events by their company. They often arrive in groups (or herds), have travelled together, sit together and talk in a closed group amongst themselves. They make little attempt to mingle and are just looking to get through the event and go home. They will usually come away from the event, saying that it / networking is no use!
Distinctive behaviour – sheep move in flocks and avoid eye-contact where possible. They keep tight, closed groups with each other and rarely pay attention to what else is going on in the room. They congregate near the coffee / refreshments and if at a seated event will be positioned at the back, near the door for a swift get away.
How to deal with sheep – like a good sheep dog you need to be able to separate a sheep from their flock to change their behaviour. Try and engage on a one to one basis and make sure you ask lots of questions about them, what they do and who they would like to meet. If you can act as someone who introduces then to useful people in the room, you will not only effectively broken them away from the flock, you will have hopefully proved to them the benefits of networking and like sheep the others may follow.
Remember the first time you went to a networking event? Were you like a rabbit in the headlights? Probably. We’ve all been there, but if you don’t get past this, you may never have the courage to venture into networking again.
Distinctive behaviour – bunnies feel vulnerable in open ground so will hug the edges of the room grasping their coffee cup and often looking intently at their phone (Smart phones make this even easier as they can look like they are checking emails etc). Bunnies are easily startled by direct approaches and may struggle to explain what they do.
How to deal with bunnies – you need to be sensitive to bunnies and not invade their personal space. Ask if you can join them and then introduce yourself and ask them about themselves. Don’t fire 20 questions at them, but coax the information out of them. It can be helpful to bring in a couple of bunnies into the conversation so they don’t feel so isolated and in the spotlight.
So the next time you are at a networking event – look out for the sharks, sheep and bunnies and also make sure you don’t turn into one!