Let’s face it. Networking is dull. We forget nine out of ten people we meet, and all those business cards, albeit ending up in our CRM, rarely see any action. Usually, that’s because we don’t bother having a clear strategy: we just network for the sake of networking.
But recently I’ve come to think about networking in the context of a similar activity, but one that people give a lot more forethought to: flirting. Flirting is fun. Partly that’s because the objective is clear. For some, it’s phone numbers; for others, it’s not heading home alone. It also makes you think creatively. So I’m thinking: if you can flirt your way into a marriage, can’t you flirt your way to a term sheet?
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not much of an expert at flirting. But let me share a few tips I’ve picked up over the last few years. Basically, it all boils down to this: you need to stop talking, and start listening.
It starts with identifying your prospective targets. You can either work the room, or you can subtly encourage people to come to you. Some of my friends call this “peacocking” (not a reference to my sadly undeveloped genitalia), and I find that the easiest way to do it is with clothing. For example, I often wear red shoes. You could, I dunno, wear a pink tie. I’m willing to bet you that people will come and compliment your tie. It’s a good ice breaker, and it brings them to you. That’s what you want.
If you get peacocking right, you’ll get a lot of attention. They’ll come to you and start a conversation. That’s good. But it’s also bad. It’s good because you don’t have to work the floor. It’s bad because you will only have about eight seconds to make them stay. Of course, they won’t leave after eight seconds, but their eyes will be after someone with a better, more colourful tie. Have some ice-breakers ready. Tell them something interesting. Something funny. Talk about how you spilled coffee on your trousers right before the pitch.
Once they feel comfortable around you, they’ll start to actually listen. They might even ask you a question about you. It’s important to recognise that IT’S A TRAP. Don’t start talking about yourself just yet. Instead, ask them about themselves. Listen carefully. Don’t say anything or think about what you’re going to say. Just listen. Ask more questions. One of two things will happen. They’ll either be boring, self-involved and dull, in which case you’ll feel like running away, and so you should. (But that’s not nice, so here’s a trick: look around the room and eye one of the other boring people you’ve met. Say “Dan, I’m so sorry to interrupt, but let me introduce you to X, I think you’d have a lot to talk about”. Then run to the loo, grab a drink or feed the meter. Dan will notice you’ve cut him off but will appreciate the effort of finding someone for him to rant at.)
If, on the other hand, Dan is both interesting and fun, the conversation will flow naturally. You’ll end up speaking about yourself – and hell, maybe you’ll even exchange business cards. Don’t just stop there. Make Dan remember you. One way to do this is by saying something memorable, albeit stupid, like, “I just realised, you look a lot like my dad”, which will likely make him laugh. You can then follow-up with an email saying “Hey Dan, I’m the guy with the red shoes who said you look a lot like his dad”. My mates in the pub call this anchoring, and it works like a charm.
Last but not least, you get a lot of Nos when you flirt. Blunt, direct, aggressive Nos. In networking, you get a lot of passive nods or endless speeches. They’re essentially the same thing. When that happens, it’s time to move. Introduce her to someone else and move on. Flirting is a numbers game, and so is networking.
While we all appreciate how your startup will disintermediate videocasting folksonomies by leveraging back-end users, I simply don’t care. It’s not interesting, entertaining, funny or useful. So rather than banging on endlessly, how about you stop and listen for a change. Listen to many, speak to a few, as Shakespeare would say.