About 6 years ago, I was at a networking event for young professionals. It was the type of event with wine and appetizers and there's intentionally no place to sit.
At this event, I witnessed a woman who was desperately trying to navigate her way around the room to meet people that might be able to help her find a job. She was clearly new to networking and hadn't yet understood the etiquettes of an event like this. At some point she got around to me and I got to hear her 30 second elevator speech first hand. It went something like this...
"Hi, I'm Sophia (I made this name up) and I have been out of work for 6 months. I really need some help getting a job, so if you know of any openings please let me know. I've been checking Indeed.com everyday, but I hear the best jobs are kept secret. That's why I'm here. "
Would you want to help this person? Maybe, but it's not for certain. What she failed to do is make a connection and offer a reason to want to help her. The most likely result is that people will pity her, but find another person to talk with.
There's a lot to learn from this experience. Here are 3 lessons that can be learned from Sophia.
1) Be a great listener
It's clear you came to network with an end goal in mind, but you'll never reach it if you don't put others first. Show other people that you're highly (and authentically) interested in them and they will reciprocate that interest with you.
In the book "How to Win Friends and Influence People" the author details an experience where he went for a meeting with a person, did nothing but listen, and got exactly what he wanted. Sometimes, reaching your goal is a simple as making others the center of attention -- not yourself.
2) Be vulnerable, but not personal
Connection starts when we let people in and allow them to get to know our authentic personality, but how much should we share? Your goal is to share the essence of who you are without giving away your whole life story.
Let people see your smile, talk about things that make you happy, and share stories that inspire you. Save your flat tires, your money stress, and your career woes for after you've built some rapport.
3) Be valuable
Reciprocity is one of the keys to influence. When you give value to others, they will be inspired to give equal or greater value to you in return. You can add value by sharing resources, connecting them with others, and giving them your insights on their business needs.
You can learn more about reciprocity in the book "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion."
Next time you're out networking, think about how others feel when you're talking with them. Be outwardly focused, and focus more on what you can give to others than what you want for yourself.