I often feel like it’s a collection of animals vying for the ‘top dog’ slot and one recent event stands out as particularly memorable to me, mainly due to the similarity it had to the script of ‘The Office’ combined with the visuals of one of David Attenborough’s wildlife documentaries…
Turning up in Derby, mid-week, at lunchtime, I didn’t expect a venue with a glitter ball. I should have known better really – perhaps I was more surprised that it was actually switched on? Slightly bemused that I seemed to be on the set of the animal version of Phoenix Nights, I temporarily shrank to the sidelines and nursed a cup, of what I suspect was, Happy Shopper coffee to take in all the animal action and decide if I could face taking a turn around the exhibits. But stood alone I was easy prey…
Within seconds I was pounced upon by a networking Lion. You could call a Lion courageous because they will always make the first move, either that or they are really hungry to meet people. They come up to you with a big boom of a voice and a wide grin and confidently thrust their hand into yours. They tell you all about their business and question you heavily about yours, but the whole process only takes a few minutes. Then they stop. It’s like they’ve done that, it’s worn them out and they can’t face/don’t feel they need to move onto their next meal. This means super hard work for you as you’re stuck trying to make conversation until you can find an excuse to leave or another animal arrives.
What you really need in this situation is a Peacock, you won’t have to make anymore conversation if they join you! Strutting round the room, a Peacock scans the room for who they think are worthy of their attention. A Peacock often forgets that networking is supposed to be an exchange of information and only talks about themselves. They bore you with tales of their brilliance, innovation and general success and look pretty darn pleased with themselves throughout the whole process. Tolerating them is easy if you don’t let their puffed up chests bother you, but if you’re feeling even slightly grumpy, the temptation to pluck out their tail feathers is overwhelming. To distract yourself from the endless campaign of ‘how amazing is my business’ narrative, you can watch the flock of swallows.
Swallows travel together, moving quickly through the crowds, using each other as comfort blankets. They do stop their weaving occasionally but don’t really interact with animals outside the flock preferring to stand with their swallow friends sipping their beverages and chattering. They add movement to the room and as they fly past they scatter business cards and flyers across every flat surface, hoping that this will convert into business without, actually having to interact with anyone. They tend not to stay at the events for long and are off to the next event after 20 minutes.
Sitting and watching all the action is the networking Sloth. It’s tempting to be a Sloth. They find a seat, near to the coffee and sit there in the hope that people will come and sit with them or, that as people collect their coffee, they will have an opportunity to network from their ‘spot’. Using the coffee as their conversation springboard, they offer advice about how to use the urn/coffee pot/jug for those non-technically minded people/networking newbies and offer solutions as to where to put the used spoon or where to find the sugar. Sloth rarely get to talk about their business or exchange details but they feel like they have had a productive experience as they have received many grateful smiles from the caffeine-deprived business people queuing for a much needed fix.
Prowling the event is always a Fox and this event was no different. Everyone likes the look of a Fox but most of us know better than to encourage them. A Fox will sidle up to you and endeavour to turn on the charm. Foxes come in all shapes and sizes and in all ages, unfortunately, they all seem to share the belief that charm before business sense is the way to win work. If you know the Fox already, you’ll know that they have their own regular phrases. I know a few, and the most prolific – and irritating – is the one that always introduces me to others as “the best” person that they know in my industry. This can work the first time you hear it, but then you realise this is just how they introduce everyone so in reality their opinion is about as useful as a glitter ball at a lunchtime networking event.
So, what sort of networking animal am I? Well, I think I’m a bit of a Chameleon by necessity, and by design. I try to fit with the networking event and often try and blend into the background. It’s not because I’m shy, it’s mainly because I’m grumpy and often wondering why I thought I had a) the time and b) the inclination to turn up in the first place. I often get stuck with the Peacock and sit with the Sloth and get irritated by a number of Foxes and just sometimes I decide to change my colouring and really make and effort to stand out. But making the effort doesn’t always work.
At the Glitter Ball event, I did make an effort to make my way round the event exhibits that lunchtime. I tried my best to be open-minded and not judge the room full of [mainly] serial networkers and, in the spirit of always trying to support local businesses, I went to seek out possible new suppliers. In my line of work I tend to need some decent images to go with the words so I asked a photographer, who was propping up his stand in the glittering semi-darkness, what his rates were. “You couldn’t afford me,” he told me. David Brent, eat your heart out.