Many business leaders resolve to jump-start their networking game in the New Year, a resolution more often than not accompanied by a vague sense of dread.
Question: Why do so many of us dislike the concept of networking?
Answer: Networking has a reputation as a manipulative, self-serving, ineffectual, sleazy endeavor involving hard sells and soft cheese.
Turns out real networking couldn’t be more different from these common misconceptions. Results-driven networking is defined by mutually beneficial, authentic relationships. You heard me right. Quality networking means forging meaningful, lasting connections one person at a time. Nothing cheesy about it.
As it turns out, this is your lucky day. I’ve compiled ten astounding tips for your personal edification, propelling you ten giant steps closer to your Big Goals of 2016.
1. Play to Your Strengths
Don’t fight against your naturally loveable disposition. Inauthentic behavior makes networking backfire, causing you to blow out faster than a sixteen-wheeler on hot asphalt. Transform presumed networking liabilities into assets. Don’t like to blab? Prefer to soak it in? Ask thoughtful questions and really listen. Your popularity will soar.
2. Establish Goals
Why are you attending an event? The best goals are challenging yet achievable. Set clear, measurable goals or don’t bother going. Before heading out the door, ask yourself, “What will make the event worthwhile for me?”
Arrange in advance to help out. Many of us are more comfortable when we have a designated, structured role. Working the event provides you with a specific reason to engage with others, rather than poking around for small talk. Plus, volunteering positions you as helpful, hospitable, and handy to have around.
4. Arrive early
It is better to enter a casually populated room with a few friendly people than one with a boisterous crowd packed close together. Gatherings are cozier near the beginning, participants are more accessible, and conversations go deeper.
5. Be cool
Be positive, gracious, and upbeat. Maintain eye contact and smile. It is impossible to predict who the ‘right people’ turn out to be, so decide whoever’s in front of you is the best person for you to interact with at that moment. Your job is to find out why.
6. Get in Line
Lines provide a fine alternative to standing around solo. There are only two people nearby – the person behind you and the person in front of you. Ask about work, a unique accessory, the origin of an interesting name, or what brought them to the event. Completing your time in line provides a built-in closer—exchange contact information and be on your way.
7. Write it Down
We tend to overestimate our own memories. Immediately jot pertinent facts on business cards of new acquaintances. Include:
- Name, with pronunciation hints
- Event location and date
- Personal facts (family, birthday, interests . . .)
- A conversation highlight
When the time comes to follow up, you’ve given yourself the gift of a cheat sheet.
8. Do Less
Prioritize your time, manage your energy. Shining bright at one event is smarter than straggling into every networking opportunity crossing your path. Grant yourself mini-recharge breaks at programs. Head outside for a breather, step away to refresh, or decompress on a brisk walk. Let go of what you should do; free yourself up to what appeals. You will be more appealing to others in the process.
9. End Gracefully
Never allow a conversation to fizzle out past its prime. You want to avoid causing others to feel trapped in conversation. Try:
- May I have your card? It was great meeting you.
- Have you met [colleague passing by]?
- I promised myself I’d circulate—I better walk around.
- I’m sure you want to talk with others; I won’t hold you up.
If you claim to be headed somewhere, really go.
10. Follow up
The time you invest in networking goes swirling down the proverbial drain without follow-up. Write a personal note within forty-eight hours; we forget half of what we hear within two days. Be useful – include an article link, provide relevant information, or connect your new acquaintance with a valuable resource. Want to really stand out? Mail a handwritten note. Bam!
Network on your own terms. As a recovered networking-phobic myself, I know you can exceed your wildest networking expectations…and reap the benefits by achieving your previously elusive professional and personal goals.