Networking can be a wild card. Uncertainty about what to say, social anxiety, and fear of rejection can creep in and undermine the efforts of even the most outgoing personality. Still, we limp along to company events and conventions, ready to make our best attempt at networking. Hoping somewhere along the way the fruits of our labor will show themselves in a tangible way.
Break the Cycle of Ineffective Networking
Networking without a plan is just wasting time. Keith Ferrazzi; national best-selling author of “Never Eat Alone” and one of the world’s most “connected” people, advises the foundation of fruitful networking is preparation.
There are two critical steps: research and thoughtful consideration. Ideally, you’ll have at least two weeks to begin the process.
- Research which companies and representatives will be at the event. Create mini-bios for everyone you think is or could be an influencer. That includes professionals in leadership roles, those who may be doing new things in your industry, and people you want to meet – regardless of title or reputation.
- Once you’ve created your short list of people you want to talk with, consider what you’d like to discuss. Come up with a list of at least three questions you could ask these individuals.While networking, think of questions that are specific to that person. For example, what questions can you ask them that are specific to their career or organization? Giving your questions thoughtful consideration increases the likelihood that you’ll have a meaningful conversation with these professionals and will lead them to remember you.
Build Lasting Relationships by Being Prepared
The adage of “working the room” and getting as many business cards as you can is dated. Today, it’s about building real relationships – one person at a time. Sure, you may not shake as many hands, but those you do will be that much more likely to remember you later. Moreover, that’s where you’ll begin to see results. We can’t influence people if they don’t know, like, and trust us.
Jen Plaza, networking expert and owner of Plaza Consulting Services, readily builds relationships with executives and decision makers. Jen shares, “It’s not about networking, it’s about relationship building,” adding, “everyone has a story, and I’m curious to find out what that is.”
Finding commonality is a fundamental aspect of relationship building. Focus on finding a way to connect with the people you talk to in a meaningful way. It’s ok to step outside the industry paradigm and connect on a personal level too. Even if we aren’t in the same business, we often face similar challenges.
Great networkers take a more in-depth approach whether they’re connecting over business or personal matters. Instead of asking the top-of-mind questions, they do a little friendly investigating. Some questions work particularly well for this including ‘How’s your business doing in this market?’ and, ‘What type of projects have you been involved with lately?’ When striking up a more personal conversation, they may inquire about the person’s family, upcoming travel plans or even their personal interests.
Reinvent the Way You Network Today
Get results faster by getting started now. Finding what works best for you is going to require a bit of practice and will probably include a few fumbles. Don’t give up. You’ve got your whole career to hone your networking skills. Incorporate these quick tips into your socializing repertoire for maximum impact:
- Have an elevator pitch: When people ask what you do, be prepared to tell them in an exciting and succinct way. Keep your energy upbeat but not over the top. Think of your elevator pitch as a Verbal Business Card.
- Don’t be afraid to be seen alone: Making your way through the crowd with a colleague or two in tow can be tempting, but you’re more likely to put yourself out there and encourage conversations if you strike out alone. Plus, you’re more approachable. Think about the last time you tried to start up a discussion with a group vs. one person. Which did you prefer?
- Take the initiative and break the ice: Starting a conversation is the hardest part of networking. You can tackle this challenge by preparing a mix of generic and more targeted questions in advance.
- Check your body language: Unconscious body cues can either draw people to us or drive them away. To that end, negative body language can thwart our best efforts. Be aware of your posture and unconscious movements. Read more about the power of body language: Is Your Body Language Impacting your Career Advancement?
- Listen for opportunities to help: As people speak with you, listen for their problem points. If any ring a bell, think of a way you may be able to help that person overcome the problem. It could be as simple as sharing how you dealt with a similar hurdle or introducing them to someone who has the connections or expertise to help.
- Get comfortable with being uncomfortable: The more you practice putting yourself into uncomfortable situations, the easier it becomes to handle them with grace. Relax. Take a moment and observe the room before you leap into conversations. Determine who is present and whom you would like to talk with. Have a few icebreakers ready and review those in-depth questions you want to ask.
- Find someone who’s a natural and learn by observing: Great networkers are usually pretty easy to spot. They’re the ones who leave you feeling energized after a conversation and people are lining up to talk to. Be a fly on the wall. Observe how they network and listen to the questions they ask. Then adopt their best practices.
How you approach networking can make or break your career. In our fast-paced world every chance to make an impression matters. We’re confident that if you continue to practice strategic networking, you’re going to get the results you want.
Ready to take your career to the next level? Get targeted advice to advance your career and accelerate your professional success, contact us today.
Author: Joanne Loberg of JL Careers Inc. is a Certified Executive Coach and Internationally Certified Career Management Professional. She has a reputation as a highly sought-after Career Consultant and she has been referred to as “an absolute expert at navigating the complex territory of career advancement.” Copyright 2018 JL Careers Inc. All rights reserved.
Wishing you much career success!
Certified Executive Coach & Internationally Certified Career Management Professional
JL Careers Inc