Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Best Laid Plans

Sometimes I wonder why I don't listen to my own advice!

I took a call last night from Brad Burton. Brad is the effervescent Managing Director of the new kid in Town, 4 Networking. Started in the South West of England 28 months ago, 4 Networking's aim is to have networking groups across the whole of England and into Scotland by February of next year. They have certainly been making a lot of progress in recent months, judging by the number of people now talking about them.

Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, a phone call from Brad.

"We're launching a new group in Stevenage tomorrow morning, would you like to come along?".

I worked out last night that during my time with Business Referral Exchange I must have attended close to 1,500 breakfast meetings, sometimes at the rate of four a week across the UK. It may be no surprise that these days I accept such invitations with less than a wave of enthusiasm.

However, I wanted to see what the 4 Networking fuss was all about and Brad and I had promised each other that we'd meet up as soon as we could. So the alarm clock was reminded of the time it used to go off and I had an early night in preparation.

Preparation. We're now getting to the point of this post. If you've seen me speak, read my books, blogs and articles or attended one of my workshops, you will almost certainly have heard me talk about knowing what you want to achieve from your networking.

You will probably have listened to me talk about how you should have a clear vision about how each event falls into your overall networking strategy. And there is a fair chance that I will have talked about the importance of planning any presentations in advance, not over breakfast, if you want to maximise impact.

So I took my own advice, initially. Knowing that I would be asked to make a 40 second presentation, last night I asked myself what I should talk about and how to make the best impact in that time. I worked out the key points of my presentation, how to open it to grab people's attention and how to put a call to action in at the end.

I had decided to talk about networking coaching, about how I could help people get a return on their investment in networking by putting a strategy into place for them and helping them to implement and track it. I made a conscious decision not to talk about Word of Mouse, the new network of which I am a director, as I felt that this would conflict with 4 Networking's message.

I was happy with the presentation I had prepared and confident about delivering it.

Then I got to the meeting, spoke to Brad and ignored all of my best instincts and own advice.

Brad asked me why I wasn't going to talk about Word of Mouse. As far as he is concerned, 4 Networking has an "open door" policy and I should take the opportunity to talk about the new network. As this would the ideal group to present Word of Mouse to, I agreed to do so.

I made one big mistake....I changed my mind.

Now, I pride myself on my ability to think on the spot and deliver a good presentation at short, or no, notice. After all, I've had to do it on many occasions. Getting a strong, impactful and succinct message across in 40 seconds is, however, not easy.

You need to spend time asking yourself which, of all of your messages, is the key one for this audience and is going to ensure you are remembered.

You need to have a strong structure, with a powerful opening to draw people in and a 'takeaway' that people will remember and want to question you about.

You have to stand out over and above the 40 other people in the room, all giving a similar presentation about their business.

Changing my presentation at the last minute was the worst thing I could do. In nearly a decade of attending these meetings, I would suggest that this was the worst slot of this type I have ever delivered.

I'll be taking my own advice in future. Hopefully you can learn the lesson from my mistake rather than your own. Spend the time planning your presentation in advance. You'll find your networking so much more enjoyable, and successful, if you do.

There are different ways to make an impact at events like 4 Networking. Maybe this is going a step too far:

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