Are You a Networker or NetStalker?

“A reliable mark of a NetStalker is that multiple event encounters produce identical results, and you soon want to avoid them.”

In my position with TechColumbus, I get to network with Central Ohio's community leaders, innovative entrepreneurs and business leaders frequently.  In the past year, I’ve attended over 80 events – breakfast meetings, luncheons, evening mixers – you name it and I was likely speaking, hosting or simply there to learn & network.  These events led to numerous additional conversations and meetings. Not bad for a serious introvert.  I love this part of my job (they pay me to work here? Cool!), as I am either meeting new people or catching up with good friends regularly.  The business purpose my networking serves is integral to keeping pace with innovators in Central Ohio and helps me to identify entrepreneurs and business concepts that might benefit from TechColumbus’ technology focus and phenomenal team.  I meet all kinds of people, and what I’ve observed is there are three basic types of networkers.

The first is the natural networkers – you know the type, easily navigating a room full of individuals, outgoing and conversant in nearly any subject. They attend events for a variety of reasons, and enjoy being there. If they own their own business or work like they do, they'll leave with a handful of cards, having met several new people. Naturals learn quickly during short conversations and then use that knowledge to benefit themselves and those with whom they have networked. They'll follow up seeking to cultivate the connection and/or to introduce their new contacts to people they should know; both actions nurture a new relationship.  I make a point of hanging with Naturals because I learn from them through observation and because of their innate connection skills.

The second group of people are the reluctant networkers, not quite so outgoing and somewhat less conversant than their natural counterparts. They attend events more out of obligation than enjoyment. If a Reluctant practices basic networking principles, they’ll follow up with new connections just as the Naturals do.  The Reluctants typically build fewer relationships at a slower pace than their natural counterparts. That said, their discussions can be as engaging as the Naturals’, and in fact the exchanges tend to “go deeper” on a first pass.  Why? Because Relunctants are not Naturals; they tend to self select into more one-on-one conversations and move through a group less rapidly rather than excelling at introductions and starting conversations.  The networking value of Reluctant's connections is about the same as a Natural's.  I also make a point of hanging with Reluctants, making connections along the way with them.

I believe Naturals and Reluctants make up at least 98% of people at networking events, and together they make the networking world go 'round.  The third group is a bit different…

“Study the good networkers; hang with them for multiple conversations. Watch how they engage others”

The third type of person we encounter is the “NetStalker”.  I’m sure you know this type well, even though they are small in number.  NetStalkers map out who they want to talk to and memorize a few surface details as conversation starters.  They purposefully work a room, systematically checking off their to-do list at our expense.  They’ll bounce between conversations talking about their interests and sometimes trying to convince us to buy or try their thing. When our eyes glaze over and we show a lack of enthusiasm to engage at this level, NetStalkers do one of two things. They either press in, continuing the “must convince” approach or they'll quickly gravitate to another person and conversation, repeating their process. The particularly persistent do both. NetStalkers know their dialogs may be short, so they exchange cards when greeting you. I usually put their cards in a back pocket, keeping them but generally not reaching out. NetStalkers will follow up quickly, adding you to their mailing lists, and sometimes hunting you down on multiple networking sites – all with the goal of turning you into a customer or worse, leveraging your contacts.  A reliable mark of a NetStalker is that multiple event encounters produce identical results, and you soon want to avoid them.

What's missing from the NetStalkers efforts? Simple – a real relationship. That’s why I “back pocket” their cards.   Frankly, who wants to put effort into a one sided relationship? When I'm networking, my goal is to first identify connection points and then build a real relationship.  It takes time and effort to do this, on both parties' parts.  There are hundreds of connection points – kids, careers, sports, hobbies, food, current events etc. and all play a role in building and maintaining relationships.  I've had the great pleasure of meeting about 1,000 people in the past couple of years and have established some solid relationships, renewed old ones and gained quite a few friends.  I have yet to establish a real relationship with a NetStalker beyond the status of acquaintance.  This is a shame, because the NetStalkers have just as much to offer from a relationship perspective, but their social tactics limit their potential and diminish the value of our networked community as a whole.

So, which are you? Odds are, you either a Natural or a Reluctant and you’re in great shape.  If you’re a NetStalker, you can improve your networking skills and reap great benefits personally and professionally.  No matter which category you are in, basic networking principles apply and establishing real relationships is key to success.

Here's my 5 simple recommendations for being an effective networker:

  1. Study the good networkers, whether a Natural or Reluctant; hang with them for multiple conversations. Watch how they engage others.  Observe their body language and facial expressions. Watch how they start conversations, how they welcome additional people into a conversation circle, and how they move from person to person or from group to group without seeming disinterested or disingenuous.  Learn how they handle NetStalkers as well – gracefully and with respect is the rule.
  2. Engage in conversations to learn and to build relationships.  Assume you are the novice in the room.  Invest your time listening, asking questions and committing details of your conversation to memory.
  3. Listen more than you speak. Far more.
  4. Think proactively.  Who do you know that would be a great introduction to your new connection?  Make an introduction at the event or as a follow-up.  Expect nothing in return; you’re simply practicing good networking.
  5. Buy lunch.  Invite a new connection to join you and continue the conversation when you follow up after the event.  Use this time to make personal connections, strengthening your relationship through personal as well as professional connection points.

The blog at Incept, based in Canton, Ohio has some great pointers in “Top 10 Ways to be Conversational” that addresses telemarketers and how to have a conversation rather than coming across as a robot.  Most of the principles Stephanie lists are applicable to in-person conversations as well.

A great site for networking insight is Smart Networking by Liz Lynch.  Liz has written  Smart Networking: Attract a Following in Person and Online (I haven't yet read it) and is the founder of The Center for Networking Excellence.  Be sure to check out Liz's Smart Networking Resources page and take the quiz, then read The Smart Networking Blog. I first became aware of Liz Lynch via friend Lewis Howes, who has co-written the excellent Linked Working: Generating Success on LinkedIn the World's Largest Professional Networking Site.  I've read my autographed copy a couple of times, use it as a reference and highly recommend Linked Working.  I have great respect for Lewis as a person and an entrepreneur who has overcome adversity and created his own career path centered on networking.  Lewis also is partners with ProBlogger author Chris Garrett on Shy Networking – Connect with Confidence.  You can draw on Liz and Lewis' networking expertise to hone you own.

“Listen more than you speak”

Chime in! What networking recommendations do you have?  How do you handle NetStalkers without offending?  What good ideas on networking do you have?

I work alongside emerging companies on business formation, commercialization strategies, and capital planning. My passion is to find, support, mentor, coach, incubate, & fund start-ups engaged in innovative technology businesses.

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