Guest Blog: Confessions of a Cereal Networker
My name is David McGarry, and I am a serial networker. Yes, I said it. I think I might be addicted a little bit. After all, what’s not to love about networking? Meeting new people, finding out about businesses you didn’t know existed, learning new things about contacts you thought you knew, speaking about your passion, your business, your product. It always gives me a real buzz – or maybe that’s just the coffee. Ah, the good old days when you could meet up with people face to face at events and drink copious amounts of coffee and eat breakfast or lunch with your networking. I guess you can still eat breakfast, but shovelling croissants in your mouth while taking part in a Zoom meeting is not really the best way to get your message across. It might get you remembered – but for all the wrong reasons.
I think of networking as an opportunity to get myself remembered for what I do, and hopefully be in the forefront of my contacts mind when they need my product or services. I have always been in sales, and ultimately at an event, I am not just selling a product, I am selling my brand, my knowledge, my reliability and trustworthiness. You aren’t going to recommend me if you don’t know me, like me or trust me. The adage of “people buy from people” is one of the truest things I have ever heard, even if it sounds a bit of a cliche. So be yourself, be passionate about your business, take a genuine interest in other people, and try to stand out from the crowd.
Being a bit different is something I like to think I am pretty good at when it comes to networking. It challenges me to keep coming up with different ways of presenting, stops the boredom from setting in, for both myself and the audience. I recently joined an online meeting where one of the participants said, “I’ve met David before – I saw his worm at breakfast meeting once”. Cue lots of laughter and odd looks in equal measure. The long version of that story is, that one day during my sixty second presentation, I busted out some breakdance moves and performed a backward caterpillar and topped it off with a statement about how flexible my service was. It is, by far, the thing I get most requests to do again at networking meetings. I even bowed to the pressure once and did it again on another occasion (there’s video evidence of that time somewhere). It didn’t quite have the same buzz for me second time around, so I haven’t done it again (yet!). The first time was a huge surprise to everyone. Nobody expected it. Nobody forgot it.
That’s what I am striving for at each meeting – to be different, to make people laugh or think, to get even just one person to remember me or my message, to connect. I used to work in Removals and not many other removal companies would network in person. There was an advantage there for me, but at the same time, not everyone needs a removal service instantly. You have to play the long game and keep showing up and being consistent with your messages, without them getting stale. Keep reminding people what it is you do and who they can introduce you to, provide alternative methods for them to work with you. You know your business inside out and what you can offer, but does everybody? Think of how you can introduce different aspects of your service and how you can present them to someone that doesn’t know your full capabilities.
I was exceptionally nervous at my first meeting. Did not know what to expect, thought it was a pointless exercise, didn’t see the benefit - but I quickly got into it with each subsequent time and started to enjoy myself. I found out a lot about myself too, and what works for me. There’s not a one solution fits all, and I’m sure some reading this may not agree with everything I say, but hopefully some of my thoughts and experiences might resonate with you and help you get the most out of your networking.
I am a big believer in finding out what works for you, so try out different styles of meeting, different attendees, different times of day, different types of business pitch. I prefer breakfast networking (hence the ‘cereal networker’ title – you thought that was a typo, didn’t you?). Not too early though – I’d rather not be dragging myself out of bed at the crack of dawn. You might not be a morning person – so lunchtime might work best. Its all about you and how you can fit it into your day and enjoy it. If you’re grumpy because its too early, you won’t enjoy it – and neither will your fellow networkers.
Other networking etiquette I try to adhere to includes being on time, possibly even a little bit early. If you’re one of the first in the room, you get to chat to more people and if you’re shy or nervous about approaching groups already chatting, you’ll find people will come to talk to you. Timekeeping is also important during your pitch. If you have 40 or 60 or 90 seconds to deliver a bit about what you do – try to stick to it. It’s not fair to encroach on other people’s time, listeners will switch off after too long anyway and it certainly won’t endear you to the meeting organiser. They have a schedule to stick to, want to showcase everyone and need the meeting to finish on time. Hang around afterward and chat if you want to talk further – organisers love nothing more than seeing everyone still chatting and engaged in conversation afterwards, while also knowing that anyone that needs to rush off to other appointments can do so freely. Practice if you need to, so you know you can get it all said within a timely matter. The same thing goes for a 10-minute presentation. The main point of your pitch is to engage people, so that they want to talk to you afterwards – sometimes keeping people hanging is a good thing. Leave them wanting more.
Then, there’s being different. Standing out from the crowd. There are many ways to do this and not everyone can be as comfortable or confident as some I have met. I’ve seen funny, sad, shocking, entertaining and downright crazy. I remember these types most of all – who delivered them and what that person does. Some of the best included physical activity, such as getting under a table to speak, having an entertaining and memorable tagline (“I shoot people for a living” - from a photographer), giving Freddo chocolate away for correct answers to a quiz question, hastily written songs or getting everyone to practice a yoga pose. A friend of mine lives in Oxford but travels around the country delivering network training and seminars almost always wears a flowery shirt. It became one of his ‘things’ along the way. He is widely known for his shirts, his networking knowledge and his speaking gigs and he was invited to write Business Networking For Dummies (which, by the way, is well worth checking out). It clearly wasn’t just because of his shirts, but they were a part of his business persona, along with the title of his company - No Red Braces. Even the company name and logo suggested he wasn’t your old school PR type. He was different.
I try to deliver differently too. I’ve written poems, limericks, raps and even made a fake radio advert that I used to just play out on an ipod while I sat down and drank coffee, which made use of various songs with the word move in the title (someone I know cannot hear ‘I Like to Move It, Move It’ without thinking of me now apparently). I once changed a pitch on the spot, after splitting my pants getting out of the car one morning at a meeting. I did think about just going home and not attending at all for a split – excuse the pun - second, but I bought some safety pins, and took it as an opportunity to tell a funny story. I give myself slightly derogatory/silly nicknames from time to time, to make people laugh (currently I’m known as Mr Bump, because the product I sell is called BUMP). I’ve taken part in a Bushtucker Trial during one of my 10-minute presentations, part of a charity fundraising drive, where I genuinely didn’t know what I was eating. Thankfully only one of the 4 or 5 things was an actual creepy crawly – and it wasn’t creeping or crawling. Did it have anything to do with my product? Not really. Did I find a way to tie it in? Absolutely.
Think about how you can make your pitch topical, funny or memorable in your own way. Something that ultimately sells you and your personality because that’s the thing that your contacts are going to take away. You want to be the first person they think of when their friends, suppliers or customers ask for a recommendation, and if you can stand out from the crowd, make them laugh or remember you and your company, they will do.
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