While playing in a recent golf tournament to support a local charity, I found myself teamed with two friends, both well connected and master networkers. We were supposed be a three-person team, but when the organizer of the event approached us to ask if we would like a fourth, of course we said yes.
Our fourth — a nice young man, early 30s, big smile on his face — jumped in the cart with me. I immediately introduced myself and started asking him questions. Where are you from? What do you do? How long have you been playing golf? Eventually I got around to asking why he was playing in this tournament. Turns out, he worked for a financial institution expanding into our area, and he was attending to make connections and identify business opportunities. It sounded like a smart move to me as there were several professionals and business owners playing in this event.
We hit the first hole, and it was clear our new teammate was a ringer. Good thing, we needed him! As we headed to the second hole, his smartphone vibrated and he took a moment to answer a message. This is where the story goes downhill. From this point on, he connected to his smartphone more than he connected with me, even making evening plans with one caller.
Now, I was a little insulted and a little frustrated. But our oblivious new friend actually thought he was networking. His boss told him to play in this tournament and talk to a few people, and, in his mind, he did that.
But that was far from networking. He happened by pure luck to be put on a team with three people who I would argue between us pretty much know everyone not only in our area, but in our entire region. My two friends are especially well connected. If he would have put the smartphone down and engaged in conversation, his results from this networking event would have been much different. It would have led to more connections and business for him and his firm.
When he was not glued to his smartphone, I asked him lots of questions. I had a good feel for who he needed to meet. A number of those connections were at the tournament with us, and others were people I could easily connect him to. In all the time we spent together, he never asked me a question. He never asked for my card or gave me his.
This is a great example of why so many people don't see the value of networking. You can't just show up. To network effectively, you have to be present and spend the time building relationships.
Employers, don't send your associates off to network without giving them the skills and setting the expectations of what you want them to accomplish. Networking is expensive — there are fees to enter tournaments, costs to attending events, plus lost production time.
I still believe networking has one of the highest rates of return on investment. Had our golfing teammate been taught the skills, he would have walked away from the tournament with three new friends willing to help him open doors.
So how do you strategically network?
* Set a goal: Networking is about getting out of your comfort zone. If you set a goal for connecting with three or four people at each event, you will ensure you use your time wisely.
* Invest first: Get to know the other person. Focus your energy on asking questions and listening. Resist the urge to spend this valuable face time answering texts and calls.
* Follow up: Networking is the new cold-calling; that means it is just the first step to getting business. It is the beginning of the relationship-building process. Always keep in mind that to make networking really work, you need to take ownership of expanding the relationships that you want to grow. Take those next steps.
You invest a lot of money in sponsorships, golf tournaments and charity events. Learning to network will ensure a strong return on that investment.
Motivational speaker and business growth expert Meridith Elliott Powell is the author of several books, including "Winning in the Trust and Value Economy."