We live in a time where convenience is king and all that we could possibly need is available at our fingertips. With a few quick keystrokes we can order food, apply for a job or become a friend. The wonder of the Internet has enabled us to find information about almost any subject. Even with all this digital power, we need much more to feel complete. We need in-person human interaction.
To land a new job, make a new (real) friend, or find a new customer, we must build relationships. Networking is one of the most powerful ways to build relationships. Many people aren’t comfortable in networking situations but that is likely because they don’t get enough practice. We are often uncomfortable networking because we feel the need to act differently than we normally do. One of the keys to effective networking is to be genuine. Behave like yourself, not a pumped-up facsimile trying to be something you’re not.
Do you suffer from ‘networking-a-phobia’? If you’re willing to give it another shot, here are twelve suggestions to help you through your next networking event:
- Have a goal for the event but keep the long term in mind – While you may have set out to meet and chat with three new people, the connections they have beyond the event might be what really open new opportunities.
- Start a conversation – You’re not there to sell your wares right out of the gate. Try to create new relationships, so put the sales pitch on the back burner.
- Help Other People – Look for ways to help others, rather than to see what you can get out of people. Any relationship goes two ways and the best way to start off is to offer your service. The more value you create for others, the more it will come back to you.
- Ask Questions – And listen to the answers. Genuine interest in what others are doing is a good first step in establishing a rapport with someone. Keep it simple and start with questions such as “May I join you?” “What brings you to this event?”
- Be Selective – Take the time to determine who in the room may provide a service that is relevant to you. Strike up meaningful conversations with a few people, rather than trying to “power network” and get your business card into everyone’s hands.
- Reduce Expectations – If you go to a networking event expecting to meet a lot of new potential employers, you are jumping the gun. Learn about people first and find out what makes them interesting. Ditch the sales pitch.
- Broaden Your Scope – Reach out to people outside your industry. Getting to know professionals in a variety of disciplines will expand your network in unexpected ways. Don’t underestimate how valuable a new contact might be. You don’t know who they know!
- Show Up Early – As an earlier arrival, you’ll notice it’s quieter, and people won’t have settled into groups or found conversation partners yet.
- Share Your Passion – Enthusiasm is often contagious. There’s a reason you’ve chosen this career path so share your excitement with others. It will likely inspire them to share their passion as well, making for a memorable conversation for you both.
- Don’t Hog the Conversation – Successful networkers are very good at making people feel special. Look people in the eye, repeat their name, listen to what they have to say, and suggest topics that are easy to discuss. Be a conversationalist, not a talker.
- Follow Up as Soon as Possible – This may be the most important point of all. If you’ve had an interesting conversation with someone, ask what the best way is to stay in touch. Whether by email, phone, or LinkedIn, make sure you follow up within 48 hours to show you’re interested, and make reference to something you talked about so they remember you.
- Nurture Your Current Network – Networking is not just about meeting new people; it’s also about keeping in contact with your existing network.
Make a point of attending different types of networking events and practice applying this list of tips.
Above all else, be yourself and have fun!
– Television Broadcasting, 1984
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