I hate business networking. There I've said it, and I don't regret it. That said, I really wish I didn't dislike it quite so much.
I recently had the (mis)fortune of taking part in a business networking and social event in Bristol. I can't really pretend it was anything but a disaster. I attended with a couple of friends and had got really quite excited about the whole evening.
Having previously gone to networking events and admittedly most of them had gone fairly badly. I'll do my very best to explain what it feels like for me.
Now, I consider myself a people person. I like talking to people, I enjoy meeting new people. I don't like talking AT people though, nor am I after lots of new friends. Perhaps that's where I'm going wrong.
I rarely have an agenda, just to listen and find some common ground and interests in the hope that both parties can find something useful. If not, move along - it's ok, that's what this evening is all about.
My problem stems from being talked at. I absolutely hate it. Too often I meet people that don't seem to understand that I'm not interested. I'm possibly too polite, not a bad trait to have - unless you're at a business networking event.
Trouble with networking is, unless you are lucky enough to attend with people who know others, you've got to dive straight in, infiltrate circles of already chatting people and introduce yourself. Despite the fancy suits and posh dresses, it's no different to walking into a pub and chatting to someone random. Some people are great at that, although I don't know many that are considered normal!
This particular evening, once I'd taken the leap and decide to get stuck in, frankly it got worse. I was being talked AT by people with something to sell, taking a brief look at my name badge and seeing if they had anything vaguely relevant that would hook me in. Trouble was, I wasn't interested in commodities, accounting or finding my voice.
See therein lies the problem. In a room of six hundred bodies there are probably at least ten people who would be interesting to chat to, and likewise, would be interested to chat... but how do you find them? By looks alone?
I won't waffle on forever about why it doesn't work for me, although I suspect I'm not alone. I will leave you with one thought:
If you are a serial networker, remember what it was like to be the uninitiated.
And please remember, what it says I do on my badge isn't necessarily why I'm there. Please listen, and try not to sell - I promise to do the same.
And be completely honest too.
I actually can't remember the last time anyone said to me they found their latest client through a networking evening.
And if I hear "we're very very busy" and "bluechip clients" again I'll laugh at you.