Networking is a key part of most conferences, but it is also the most difficult aspect to pull off successfully. It's simply not something many people are all that good at, unless you have spent a lot of time at a lot of events getting to know strangers.
The main thing that most people get wrong is not a small thing, such as your body language, your small talk or how polite you are. Instead, it is the larger goal that most networkers forget. Essentially, very few people actually understand why they are networking in the first place.
So why do you think you spend so much time networking? If your answer is "to sell my product/service to other businesspeople" then you are barking somewhat up the wrong tree. This is simply not what most conferences are for, and this outlook will unfortunately get you nowhere in most cases.
Dr. Ivan Misner, founder and chairman of BNI, talked to RealBusiness.com about networking and recalled one example from a conference he spoke at. He asked the 900 people in attendance: "Who is here hoping to sell something today?” This resulted in 900 hands raised in the air.
However, when he followed that up by asking: "Who is here to buy something?" nobody raised their hand at all. This discrepancy shows just how difficult it can be to network with people when your sole aim is to promote your business and the products or services it sells. Essentially, nobody will be looking to buy anything at an average conference.
“People show up wanting to sell something, whether it’s a product or an idea, and that’s why networking feels so mercenary,” Dr Misner added. If you show up with the singular goal of selling yourself, your business and your projects to other attendees then you will find the job becomes incredibly difficult as few are interested in what you have to say.
Instead, you need to treat networking like farming. This might seem like an unusual metaphor, but think about it: when farming, you don't just wander around looking for vegetables and tearing them out of the ground as soon as you find them! Instead, you need to plant seeds and look after them as they grow.
This is the mentality you need to have when you make contacts at a conference. Each person you meet could well end up leading to a sale, but not straight away. Instead, you will have to nurture the contacts and gradually grow each individual relationship.
As such, the purpose of networking is merely to make contact with new people and learn about what they do. That is all that is needed, so you don't want to be pushy or too focused on sales. People will be more likely to remember a friendly face that made them laugh than another businessperson looking to sell a product.