If you’re just starting out in your career, or simply an introvert, professional networking may seem like a mystery. You may think that people with massive business networks are those who network naturally. But those who do it well actually put a great deal of effort into it.
Here are some networking tips from the pros:
Build a network before you need one. It’s painfully obvious, and a bit pitiful, when people network just to get something in return. Start your network when you’re not looking for any particular outcome. It’s more effective that way - and more fun.
Start with those who have helped you. These are people who deserve your loyalty, and are worth the effort to keep in your life. Don’t simply email – maintain regular, face to face contact, regular phone conversations or lunch/dinner meetings.
Attend work functions and networking events; accept invitations from colleagues. Even if you’re an introvert, make the effort. It’s better to show up frequently and leave early than to show up occasionally or not at all.
When attending events, do your homework. Find out who will be there. Look up those people online and make a note of their areas of expertise, list of hobbies, places they’ve lived, etc.
While it may seem disingenuous, it’s really not. Doing some advance research facilitates deeper conversations and stronger connections.
Prepare your elevator speech. Be able to respond easily when people ask you what you do. And don’t just tell them what you do, but what you’d like to do, what you’re interested in, and what your goals are. Learn to sell yourself as more than just “what you do,” but as a motivated person with a vision.
Know your value. Be clear on your strengths, talents and skills. Once you’ve determined what they are, be generous in offering them to support others.
Build connections by helping others. Be willing to do favors with no expectation of receiving something in return. Offering your skills to help someone is a good way to let people know what you have to offer.
Be a listener. When meeting groups of new people, just listen to the conversation to get a feel for the dynamic before jumping in to talk. When meeting individuals, ask questions and really listen to the answers. The most interesting people aren’t the ones who are always talking – they’re the ones who make others feel heard.
When you meet people, make a mental note of their names, and use them in conversation. Addressing people by name makes them feel comfortable and valued. It’s a gift to them, and it also makes them want to talk to you more. It’s a skill worth acquiring, so practice doing it.
Understand connections. Use your listening skills to determine who knows whom. Discovering common acquaintances is another way to build connections with people. Use your connections to get introductions to people you’d like to know, or invitations to other networks you’d like to get in on.
Be positive. No one wants to spend time with people who are relentlessly negative. That’s not to say you can’t commiserate or talk about a particularly frustrating issue; just keep the tone light and have some humor about it.
Be authentic. Even as you work on your conversation skills and positive outlook, do it in a way that is authentically who you are. Be yourself. That’s the person people really want to know. Besides, everyone else is taken.
Always have business cards. Even in today’s high-tech world, handing someone a card is the easiest way to get your information in their hands. And they may give you theirs – or at least offer their information so you can capture it on your smartphone.
Follow up with new acquaintances. When you meet someone interesting, send that person an email within the next few days. Attach a link to an article on a subject they discussed or might find interesting.
Don’t just focus on the VIPs. Build relationships with people you really like and enjoy, not simply those who can help you. Besides, it's not always easy to break into the “inner circle.” Think about people in your network who are just starting out, and are smart, interesting and motivated. Even if they don't become influencers, at least you’ll enjoy the relationship.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Most people actually enjoy being of service. If they don’t, they’ll let you know. But if you have built up some goodwill by supporting others, they may be willing to return the favor.
Always say thank you. If someone has helped you or given you sound advice, send a note of thanks. Let them know specifically how they helped you, and why you appreciate it. An email is nice, but a personal, hand-written note is even nicer.
Add your networking tips below!