In some western cultures there’s this meme that women tend to visit the facilities in pairs or groups. Now, some of you male readers might believe that this is due to an evolutionary caused need to exchange gossip. That’s absolute nonsense. The fact is that there are always too few toilets in the ladies room, so there is usually a queue. Waiting in queues alone is boring. Bringing a conversation partner is thus a perfectly sensible thing to do. If that is not an option (no women at your table etc.) the next best thing to do when waiting in line is to start chatting with the others waiting. A great opportunity to brush up on your small talk skills (and listening skills of course), but that’s not what I’m getting at.

Ladies restroom sign
Image CC BY 2.0 courtesy of TooFarNorth, on Flickr

The Lavatory Pitch

In case you still haven’t figured where this is heading, picture this situation: at a hip innovation conference I am waiting in line in the restroom, there’s about four ladies before me in the queue (only two cabins available, see problem mentioned above…), when the previous speaker gets in line behind me. She just held a brilliant talk about diversity being one of the main assets in innovation culture. Mind you: innovation culture is my darling topic, I am really fervid about that. So, in the aforementioned small talk habit I first compliment her on her speech and then banter on a bit about there not being a VIP queue for good speakers. So far so good, the door for a little conversation is opened. She plays along, but then (clearly much more of a networking pro than me) cuts right to the chase asking me what I do for a living and why I chose to attend the conference.

Somehow I am not prepared for this. My mind goes blank; I start babbling about innovation being so important nowadays (duh!) and stammer on that I tried to enable some more innovation in my former workplace. As this failed, I told her, I quit and became an innovation consultant. What a mess. Not a word on innovation being my passion, no hint about how it intrigues me to spark the creative flow in people. Slightly put off, she nonetheless is complaisant enough to give me another chance: she asks me about my opinion on innovation based reward schemes (quite a tricky topic, which she also addressed in her speech). I would have loved to hear more from her about that, but instead I kind of brush her off: “Well, that they do not go together very well is quite old hat, I would say.” And before I could soften that a bit, it is my turn for the john. She probably did not see me blushing on my way to the cabin. It might exculpate me a bit that my pit stop was rather urgent. Even so: this incident won’t go to the hall of fame of networking. Do I need to mention that I did not have the nerve to exchange business cards with this lady when I met her later at the bar? Well, I didn’t.

Chance Favors the Prepared Networker

As with so many things, in networking, too, the unforeseeable situation will find you. It’s very reassuring to have a fall back plan. Hence the idea of the lavatory pitch – or (to apply it to a wider range of circumstances) a networking pitch. As I mentioned in “networking is about listening” the goal is not to sell yourself or your product, which is why the term “elevator pitch” doesn’t quite fit, but the aim is to get the introduction part settled, make a lasting impression and thereby also pique the other person’s interest to consider you as an attractive node in their network. As indicated, I also tend to use this networking pitch as a crutch: to vent the urge to talk about myself. This works, as long as it is really brief and ends in passing the ball back to the other person with a question.

If you have such an opening prepared (and genuinely know it by heart), you will never be seriously tongue-tied in that type of situations again, as the networking pitch lets your brain cells wake up and gets you into the conversation without having to think about what to say (which so often is the reason for faltering).

The Networking Pitch

In my experience, the characteristics for a good elevator pitch also help in devising a good networking pitch. The most important thing: it should paint a vivid image of what you are on about. Your passion, your vision, what drives you. If you can wrap this into a 2-3 sentence-story, great. What works really well for me is providing bait for people to refer back to later in the conversation. This could be a question I have been pondering or an analogy I use. And at the climax, a smooth transition to navigate the conversation towards the other person. An inquiry into their profession or their take on a certain topic. Do try not to catch them off guard. When you’re at a leadership congress, don’t ask them about the results of the last election. Here you need to be somewhat flexible.

Watch What You Say by How You Say it

Your whole networking pitch should be clear and precise without using jargon. You should phrase it in powerful words, no polite modesty or restraining insecurities. It simply comes across a lot better, when you say, “we need to capitalize on the fundamental changes in our society” than when you state, “I guess there have been changes going on. We should maybe take advantage of that.” Just make sure you keep in mind what you are trying to achieve with your networking pitch.

In a Different Universe

Back to the ladies room. As you can imagine, after the pratfall I shared with you above, I did my homework. I made sure such a disaster would not strike again. Or at least I made it very, very unlikely. The result is a very brief networking pitch that I can tell you even if you wake me up at 4 am after having had a bottle of wine and no aspirin.

My Networking Pitch

So, what I do for a living?

I am an innovation consultant. I am fervently passionate about productive thinking and igniting the creative spark in people.

I am attending this conference because…

What drives me is the desire to enable an innovation culture in organizations. And I am always curious to find out more about factors that boost this.

And then my transition:

What helps you be creative?

Of course I might have had to adapt the ending question when talking to the culture –speech lady. For that purpose I have a few alternative endings up my sleeve. More about that next time we read each other ;-)