networking

Image by Joseph Redfield Nino from Pixabay 

author: @aestranger

Reading time: 12 minutes

Gamifying your networking experience

As I’m sat here, looking at the schedule of the next conference I’m going to, I check who the speakers are and who else is turning up. As with any conference, it’s an opportunity to learn from specialists and to meet new people, in other words, it’s time to network.

Personally, I’m not great at networking, I’ve gotten better over the years, but it is not something that comes easily to me. And I’m sure that’s true for many others, the prospect of approaching strangers, either alone or in a group can increase the anxiety in most individuals, and then there’s the ‘small talk’. Naturally, the point of networking is to learn about each other. But often your nerves take over and you’ll probably either only talk about them, never giving a glimpse of what you can offer. Or you only talk about yourself and they get bored with you.

So, how do we go about changing that? One of the benefits of gamification that is not highlighted often enough is the fact that it permits the ability to change a mindset and a point of view of something. In essence, it takes something that is familiar and allows you to see it in a new light. Which is great for those of us that get nervous with certain things, it gives us the option to essentially ‘re-skin’ the experience into something we are less nervous about. So, let’s see how we could go about gamifying our own networking activities. The methodology I will use is a combination of the most popular gamification techniques, which we also go through in our new book Press Start: Using Gamification to power-up Your Marketing. If you would like to know more about it and gamification in general, then please do check out the link.

 

Networking preparation

As with any activity you need to prepare for it. And when gamifying something yourself, unfortunately, the game experience usually isn’t pre-made for you, so you need to the bits beforehand to make it effective.

The first point, therefore, is to change your mindset or point of view and view your networking exercise as a Quest. Having a Quest is the most relatable form I’ve found, as you have a quest objective, and along the way, there are various challenges and quest points you must go through to reach the final objective.

So, what is the quest objective with networking? Your goal is to meet the big fish in the room, exchange details, and hopefully set up a meeting with them, post the event.

Keep it simple, don’t overcomplicate what you want to do. You’re there to have conversations, learn about each other and to create opportunities to continue the conversation in a more professional environment. You’re not there to show off your latest gizmo or service on the spot, because that will put most people off.

Next, what are your starting quest points that will get you to this main objective? Firstly, do some research about the event you are heading to; who are the big fish, and who is not. This is your game strategy for working the room, knowing who best to target first, or if you prefer; discovering the various personas and characters who are worthwhile to approach. Secondly, figure out your post-event strategy; how you’re going to follow-up on your new contacts, setting up meetings to continue conversations and collaborations. Be that through emails, LinkedIn connections or phone calls.

Networking goals & actions

The next step is refining what you need to be able to network successfully.

What are your goals? These are separate from the main quest objective; this exercise refines it a bit further down to what are the goals in the moment when you are at the venue and actively ‘networking’. On an overall level, you could say the goal and win condition is to have an enjoyable conversation with someone, learn something new, and that it leads to a meeting at a later date. The fail condition could be having a conversation that leads nowhere. Try not to have your goals be something like making a sale or signing a contract on the spot because no one wants that.

If you’re having trouble with defining and refining your goals, you can always use the SMART methodology. It’s a classic, but it works pretty effectively. A version of refinement of the above conditions could look something like this: “Start a conversation or gain an introduction with at least 6 people, see if they are big fish or not, and arrange a meeting at a later date if they are worth getting to know better.”

Once you have your goals set out, next check if you have the necessary skills, attributes and equipment to be effective at networking. The allegory here is stocking up on gear before heading out on the quest.

Skills you should have in abundance are being able to talk and articulate well and having manners. Being polite to people is always an attribute that gets you a win. Next is equipment: business cards, a pen and a notepad. And if it’s a conference you will likely get a name-badge of some sort, so that already helps with introductions.

Motivational levers of networking

The majority of gamification frameworks always have the step of determining what the motivators are of the people you are trying to engage with whatever it is you are doing, product or service. But how do we translate that to an activity like networking? You can’t know what motivates the total stranger opposite you before you’ve met them right? In this case, it’s more about knowing which motivators will aid you in your networking endeavours. Which to target and knowing what people want and don’t want when they are at conferences and networking events.

Belonging & Safety

The motivational levers of Belonging and Safety are probably the most important in my opinion. Everyone wants to make a connection, be part of something, and everyone wants to feel comfortable and secure. Therefore, when looking around, find individuals or open groups to join. These are inviting to you and the group will also feel comfortable if you join. Closed groups, well they are closed, and unless you know someone in the group, entering such a group will likely end with everyone feeling uncomfortable because you squeezed your way in.

Thankfully at networking occasions, most people and groups will hold an open inviting stance, as that is why they are there. And I suggest that you try to hold an open and inviting stance in a group as well. The more the merrier right?

In the unlikely event you aren’t able to find an open group, well then just grab a drink, relax for a moment and wait until a new opportunity presents itself. There’s no need to make yourself uncomfortable by trying to force something.

Purpose, Mastery, Autonomy and Esteem

With the other motivational levers such as Purpose, well you and everyone else are there with a purpose, to learn and get to know each other. If you’ve chosen the right event then you and everyone else should have an adequate level of Mastery over the subject matter being presented and discussed.

And Autonomy and Esteem relate back to your preparation of knowing what you want to achieve, having the right skills and equipment, and being polite and genuine with those you meet during the event.

The networking experience path

 

To continue with the traditional creation of a gamified experience, we next come to the experience path or player journey. The most recognisable phrasing for each stage that the player goes through are the Discovery stage, Onboarding, Scaffolding and Mastery stage.

With our gamification of networking, these stages will likely take this shape:

Discovery: Introduce yourself

  • Individuals: Hi, I’m Albert, nice to meet you…
  • Groups: Hi, do you mind if I join you for a bit? (then introduce yourself when/if prompted by other members of the group).

Onboarding: Determining the value

Listen to the topic’s being discussed. Talk with the other members. Then see if there is value in the choice you made and see if you are able to add any value to the discussion.

Scaffolding: Adding value

If the individual or group you have engaged with do have value, then add your own value to the conversation, providing your own unique point of view. For individuals, ask questions like: what do you do, how did you get into this business, why do you still enjoy doing it? etc.

If possible, try to ask things like: What do you hope to get out of the event or who do you hope to meet at the event? And if nothing else, just have a chat and drop in a few topical points of discussion; news events, impressions of a speaker, previous event experiences, share hobbies and interests until you find a connection.

Mastery: Proving Your value

This is the hardest part, as you’ll be talking about yourself at this point – hopefully you’ve found a connection and can see how you can add your own value as a master of the subject to the individual(s).

People usually ask about you after a while, if they are polite. When you are asked, remember to be impressive, but not arrogant. If your aim is to get more business, then the best possible statement you can make is saying/describing what you leave your clients with, i.e.: as a gamifier you leave your clients with more engaged customers (which means a greater ROI and naturally leads to an increase in revenue).

It’s up to you how much information you give but be careful not to overwhelm your conversation partner. Refined, short and sweet answers are always good to aim for. And if they are interested, they’ll ask you to elaborate. If possible, add a story and bit of humour in there, people like to be entertained and laugh after all.

Additional stage: Thanking everyone and bowing out gracefully & politely

This may be equally tough as the Mastery stage, as you and they will likely want to continue working the room. Therefore you will need to end your part in the conversation as politely as possible and continue onwards. The simplest and best way to end the conversation, once you feel you have gotten everything out of it that you want, is to ask them for their Business Card. And ask if they would like to perhaps continue the conversation over a drink at a later date and explore a collaboration (only say this if you think it’d be worthwhile), then ask if they would like your business card. This is important for two reasons, one, always ask, never simply give it, and two because they now have a way to contact you. After this, simply say that you enjoyed the conversation and wish them a pleasant evening – and exit stage right as it were.

An alternative ending before wishing them a pleasant evening is to insert the option that if you meet anyone they would like to meet as well, then you will introduce them to you. This scores you points and makes it clear that your interactions have ended as well.

Measuring your networking quest

It wouldn’t be a good gamification experience if there weren’t aspects of it that you could measure and improve or iterate upon, right?

Measuring your experience is a self-reflective task, you will need to ask yourself questions like: did you meet the objectives and goals you set out prior to the event, how many meet-ups were you able to organise and are these the kind of relationships you want to build upon or do they meet your criteria of ROI for the work required to make it work?

To make this reflective activity worthwhile, consider how you can develop and iterate on the answers you come up with. Examples are: were the goals too easy or too hard to achieve? What needs improvement and/or what needs to be changed?

If you managed to get contact details and a business card from someone, then make contact with them immediately (online is usually the first point of contact nowadays) and if they were interested in meeting up, then use this contact point to set a date and time – this relates back to the quest points of what objectives you wanted to achieve post the event. Remember that the message for the meet-up should be short and only about setting a date and time for a drink. The meeting itself is where you expand on the conversation you had at the event in a more professional manner.

 

Final Thoughts

A few final thoughts and pieces of advice on how to get the right mindset for networking. Approach the event as if you were the one overseeing it, such as the host or the organiser. Putting yourself in this ‘control’ mindset actually helps to put you at ease and gives you some more self-confidence. Personally, I have always felt far more at ease networking and talking to strangers if I’m the one that organised the event – naturally don’t let the role-play go too far, you should not be taking credit for the event, rather make sure others are having a good time.

Another point is about what time you should arrive at the event. As much of a fan I am of being fashionably late, this only really works if you know a lot of people where you’re going. If you don’t know many or any people, then be punctual – being punctual is always a good attribute to have with anything in life I’ve found.

And the last and most important piece of advice is that doing all of this is about making it more enjoyable and engaging for yourself. The worst that can happen is that other people don’t engage with you, which is their loss then, so just have fun with it all and always approach it as a learning experience.

I hope that this piece has given you some food for thought and helped improve your own methods or at least offered a different viewpoint to consider.

Please do check out the other posts on æStranger.com, and please do leave a comment or contact us if you have some ideas of your own that you wish to discuss or if you would like to see other topics discussed.

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