…improve attendance at your networking meetings
…increase engagement among your members
… give and receive better introductions?
Then it’s time to stop going “around the room” with everyone’s 30-Second Elevator Pitch.
Nobody Watches Commercials
I’m the Elevator Pitch Coach. I love talking about Elevator Pitches. I love listening to Elevator Pitches. I love helping people be clear and concise. I love helping people discover what makes them unique and memorable.
And I do not like going around the room.
It’s not that there can’t be value.
I have connected with people off their Elevator Pitch.
But those are few and far between – and the approach doesn’t scale.
I got an announcement from one networking group: “50 minutes of commercials!”
That was their plan.
50 people, one minute each – a whole meeting of listening to “commercials.”
Hang on – don’t people skip over the commercials on TV?
50 minutes of listening to commercials?
There has to be a better way.
The Elevator Pitch
Never mind that an effective Elevator Pitch isn’t even a commercial.
Commercials are for selling.
Elevator Pitches are for starting conversations.
It’s an important distinction.
And it’s even more important in networking groups.
The good thing about networking groups is that you see the same people on a regular basis.
So please don’t waste that precious time going “around the room.”
Let’s take a step back – what is the purpose of the networking meeting?
Over the years I’ve learned that the goal is to get to know people.
And that doesn’t happen with a 30 second pitch.
Or a 10 minute presentation.
Or a 30 minute coffee meeting.
You need all those things and more.
Developing the kind of trust that leads to leads takes time and intention.
So how do you encourage people in your networking group to get to know each other?
Here are 7 techniques that improve engagement, develop trust, and foster strong connections.
1. Client Success Story
This is such a powerful technique that it forms the basis for my coaching and for my book.
I experienced it for the first time in 2007 at a networking group connected to the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce.
Our facilitator, Tom, suggests that instead of going around the table and giving our traditional 30-Second Elevator Pitch, we talk about a recent client success.
I learn more about the people sitting around the table that day than I had in the previous three years of twice a month listening to their traditional pitches.
Three years!?!?! Three wasted years of 15 of us tweaking and rehearsing and memorizing that old-style Elevator Pitch.
And we still had no idea how to help each other. None.
So here’s the tip: the next time you’re asked to give your 30-Second Elevator Pitch, say “Let me tell you about a recent client success.” And then give a two sentence description of what you did for that client.
And, if you’re a group leader, and you absolutely must go around the room, please pick a day when your group will share a recent client success.
2. Round Robin
People need permission to schedule coffee meetings*.
Strange but true!
And I’ve found that while people resist scheduling coffee meetings, they are more than happy to catch up with their fellow group members.
A Round Robin has consistently been one of the highest rated programs in my networking groups.
It’s a quick check in / catch up where people pair up and talk for 3 – 5 minutes.
In person you can have people sitting across from each other at a table. Have one side of the table shift two seats to the left after each conversation.
Virtually, set up breakout rooms for pairs of people, then move one of the pairs to new rooms after each conversation.
Good conversation starters for this activity are:
- “What’s something new you’ve tried recently?”
- “What’s your main area of growth this year?”
- “What’s something that used to work and is no longer working?”
In practice, though, since people already know each other they don’t need much guidance.
It’s a great way to check in with multiple people in the group and leads to deeper conversations, shared connections, and exciting opportunities.
3. Deep Dive
In this case you have small groups of people answer a question about business.
Some good example questions are:
- “How do you handle difficult customers?”
- “When is the last time you raised your prices?”
- “What is the most important piece of software you use to run your business?”
Split people into groups of 3 or 4 (either virtually or in person) and give them a question to talk about. This gives people a chance to learn more about each other values in their business.
In hearing what other people are doing – and how they handle challenges that we all face, it creates connections and best practices and an ongoing support system.
We usually allocate 15 to 20 minutes for the small groups to grapple with the question.
Then we come back together to discuss the highlights of what each team discussed.
4. In-Meeting Coffee Meetings
If you’re having trouble getting people to schedule coffee meetings, set aside one meeting a quarter for in-meeting coffee meetings.
Pair people up, and give them a list of questions to get a productive conversation started.
Give people a good 30 minutes so they each get to talk about their work, a successful client, and how they got interested in doing their work.
Also encourage people to ask about how they can help each other so they can open up their networks and make some introductions.
5. Fish Bowl
One day in 2007 at the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce, our group facilitator Tom showed up to our meeting with a fish bowl.
It was empty – no water or fish or anything.
“What’s with the fish bowl,” we nervously asked.
“You’ll see” was all Tom would give us.
We shared wins and had a member presentation.
“Fish bowl?” we asked.
Finally at the very end of the meeting Tom passed the fish bowl around the table twice.
The first time we each put in a business card.
The second time we took out a card.
Then everyone had 2 coffee meetings, one with the card they picked, and one with the person who picked their card.
Tom had spend the better part of two years pleading with us to schedule coffee meetings.
The fish bowl caused it to happen.
Suddenly it was no longer awkward to schedule the coffee meetings.
In fact, it became awkward if you didn’t reach out to the person whose card you drew.
Introductions and referrals starting flying around the room, because coffee meetings create introductions.
Keep using the fish bowl until people schedule meetings naturally on their own.
6. Recent Referral
This approach is similar to the recent client success, but instead have each member talk about a recent referral.
Not their ideal referral. That gets too pie in the sky.
Ask each person to describe a recent referral, either from someone in the room or not.
As they talk about why the person thought to introduce them, and the interactions they had with the referral, and the benefits for both them and the referral, the people around the table will get more ideas for introductions.
7. Interactive Workshop
Sometimes you need a different voice.
Even if you’re a great group leader, it can make sense for the group to hear the same messages from an outside source.
Make sure the person you’re bringing in will have the group members interact with each other as they try out different techniques for describing their work and making connections.
Interested in discussing ideas for your group?
*Coffee meetings are sometimes called 1:1’s or face-to-face meetings.
Which of these techniques have you tried?
Which one works the best for your group?
What other techniques work well in your networking group?
Let us know in the comments!