Let’s go to a networking event! Ugh. Really. Do I have to?

Let me set the scene: A massive networking event with a sea of professionals in varying industries. Everyone trying to get in front of the “right” people. Mingling. Mixing. Talking about business. You can almost hear the nerves rattling and shaking in the room.

I do a lot of networking. I don’t mind it much. And I’m good at it. The more you do, the better you get at communicating your message and referral needs. A strong network of people in your sphere is critical to business growth- no matter what you do in your business. Networking is a lot like speed dating…without the structure or googly eyes.

This particular Thursday night, as I was driving home, I got to thinking about the people I had encountered, and those who I had actually made a commitment to connect with again. There is a difference there. It’s like dating- there are some you want to see again and others whose name fall from your memory instantly. In the few minutes you spend together, you get an invaluable impression of the person and the way they do business. It helps inform if you want to do business with them.

Ain’t nothin’ like the real thing, baby.

Sure, I had encountered and chatted with almost a dozen people in the room. But I had connected with a mere handful. What was the determining factor? The few people I felt a real connection with (yes, even over business talk) were authentic and real (well, as real as you can get when you’re nervous and networking!). But they were genuine. They weren’t trying to “be” something- I can smell phoniness a mile away- you know the ones- we used to call them “schmoozers”.

The people with whom I made good eye contact, shared a firm and warm handshake, and proceeded to take the pressure off and get to know each other a little without the stress of the sell? Those are the people I want to talk to again- whether for potential business or just for growing my sphere to help others- the people who didn’t try to push themselves on me or shove their card into my hand with a promise to follow up, those are the keepers in my book.

You are your brand.

The people with whom I connected? They were their brand. By just being themselves, they communicated their values and their approach to business. They didn’t put on airs or appear disingenuous. Their brand and their willingness to show up as the person they are, in both life and business, made a credible impact. Because they didn’t try to schmooze me with sales pitches and the like, made me want to learn more about ways I can be of service to them and their business.

It’s the warm and fuzzy that matters. You know it in your gut. You know when you’ve found the people of your tribe.

The people who were immediately asking me if I knew someone in a particular area of marketing or if I had a client looking for their particular service are the ones whose cards went into the recycle bin as I walked out of the door of the networking event.

The ones who engaged me and didn’t market to me will be on my list to follow-up with. This very thing- the act of engaging someone instead of “marketing” to them is something I encourage my clients to do when they are building relationships with not only clients, but prospects. People resonate with authenticity- it makes them feel good and makes them more comfortable doing business with you. I coach my clients on bringing their best selves to their business. When they’re at their best, prospects are more likely to become clients.

Try it. The next time you are networking at a big event, find someone who looks as nervous about the event as you feel. Strike up a conversation. Start it with the ice breaker of, “Do you get as nervous as I do at these events?” You may make a business connection that matters, and you just might also make a friend or trusted business partner in the end.