The Three “Know”s of Networking

During a talk I gave for job seekers on creating a personal brand, one of the attendees raised her hand and said she was disappointed in that she thought I was going to talk about revitalizing brands. That should have been my first sign that trouble was ahead!

I asked her if she was a job seeker. She said she wasn’t. I then explained, or rather reiterated, what I had written in the promo for the talk: It was my purpose to teach participants how to get employers to come to them rather then the other way around. She remained and there were no further interruptions.

At the end of the presentation this woman, let’s call her Mary, came over and asked to speak with me. I asked her what she wanted . She said, “To network.”

The next day Mary called and we made an appointment. I explained to her that, ironically, I had a networking event the following evening but would be happy to meet with her prior to the event. I also made it clear that I could only give her 45 minutes.

She arrived 15 minutes late. She apologized. After the normal pleasantries I asked her to tell me about herself. This is how she began:

“I am a change architect.” I asked her to explain. When she was finished I said, “Oh, so you’re a business coach.”

It was like I had insulted her mother. “No! I’m a change architect,” she reiterated.

I then asked her to explain what she actually does with her clients. She told me that she meets with them for three hours, hears all about their hopes, dreams and problems, and, as an outsider, identifies areas for improvement and works with them to accomplish those improvements.

So I said, “Oh, you’re a life coach.” Again, she was insulted.

I then told her that, as far as I could tell, there was nothing unique about what she was doing. I had heard it all before from countless business and life coaches. She responded with a series of slogans, tag lines, jargon and similar meaningless phrases.

As time was running out, we had been speaking for over half an hour, I told her, “The attention span of a human being is 10 seconds. Tell me what you do in one sentence. If you’re not a business or life coach, I just don’t understand.”

She couldn’t do it. It was all slogans and jargon. I reminded her that I was pressed for time and apologized for still not understanding what it was that she does.

I then asked her why she wanted to meet with me. She again said, “To network.”

I explained to her that there are two reasons for business owners to network, “You either want the person as a client or you want a referral.” I told her that I had no need for her services and that I could not refer her to anyone since I did not know what she does.

She then responded that she wanted neither. So I asked her, “If you don’t want me as a client, and you don’t want me as referral source, what do you want?” She said, “To network.”

I then reminded her that I had told her that I had to leave for an event and I pointed out that since we had gone over the allotted time, if I did not leave immediately, I would be late.

Her response was that it was “my loss” that I did not understand what she does. I responded by helping her on with her coat and wishing her well.

As I hurried to my event I thought, “That’s 45 minutes I’ll never get back!”

What were her mistakes?

First, she could not explain in simple terms what she does. She was more concerned with a title – “Change Architect” – than with substance (something far from unique among people who lack a formal education, although there are exceptions). Whether you are a business owner looking for business or a job seeker looking for employment, if you can’t explain what you do in ten seconds you are in a lot of trouble.

There are three parts to any presentation: the audience, the message and the speaker/presenter. It makes no difference if the audience is present under duress or really wants to be there. You, as the speaker, have the responsibility to deliver the message. If you fail, it’s your fault, not the audience’s. And it does not matter if it is an audience of one or one hundred. It’s your job. If you can’t do it, you can’t blame anyone else.

Second, you have to set a goal for your meeting. It should be simple: to build a relationship; to start to build a relationship; to get a new client; to get a referral; to get a job offer. But if you don’t know what you want, if you can’t articulate it clearly to your audience, you will achieve nothing.

So before you start networking, make certain you know yourself, know your audience and know what you want.