“Networking” is one of those angst-inducing words that drive even the best among us to find excuses to flee. It’s not easy to mingle with complete strangers in an environment that isn’t often conducive to sparkling conversations. For introverts, it can especially feel like a Herculean effort to push themselves out of their comfort zone.
Regardless of your personality, the benefits of networking are immense – potential to create a supportive community, make invaluable connections that can open doors or generate referrals, as well as create opportunities for customer insights and research – to name a few.
And it can be fun experience if you can master the art and the science of it. As someone who is an executive and leadership coach and runs her own business, networking is an invaluable approach for me. I had to change my own attitude and develop a skillset to make networking more productive for me.
If you look at networking from a lens of wanting to serve rather than be served, it can completely shift the way you experience it, as well as change the value you gain from it.
Here are the five things to do to make networking effective – and yes, fun!
# 1 Become purposeful about networking
There are many reasons why people network – whatever your reason, if you approach it thoughtfully, you’ll gain from in. In other words, what’s your objective – are you looking to understand the industry better, are you looking for business leads, are you there to learn?
Be clear about your why, then create a simple end goal. For example, I attend several events catering to founders. As a founder myself, as well as someone looking to grow that client base, my motivation is to understand challenges that founders face. My goal is to speak with at least 3 people and understand each of their biggest pain points. If I can do that, it’s a win – regardless of how many business cards I swap.
#2 Preparation is key
If you live in a big city like New York, there are hundreds of events everyday to choose from. Your time is valuable, and you need to make sure you’re investing it wisely. Do your research to make sure you’re in the right place that attracts the audience you’re looking for or provides the information you want. If you’re there to network with a speaker, make sure you’ve done your research to know what they’re about, looked at their social media, are familiar with their blogs or books. And pay attention to what they say during the event. It seems kind of obvious, but I can’t tell you how many times people arrive late and miss key information or show up blindly without understanding what they want to get out of the event. If you’re there to learn, have a list of questions prepared in advance that you can ask people as you mingle.
#3 Be positive and giving
Sharing is caring. Don’t be one of those people who is just there to “sell” their services or products or grab a business card. Be generous with your conversation – in other words, make it about the other person as opposed to you.
Dale Carnegie once said, “You can make more friends in two months by being interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get people interested in you.”
You may say – well, I’m there with a clear goal to generate leads for my business. That’s fine – but when you have a “giving” attitude, you’ll still gain a lot. People can smell desperation, as well as creeps who are just in it for themselves. The beauty of making something about others is that it takes the pressure off you to talk.
#4 Have a few arrows in your quiver
I’ve found that having a few “back-up techniques” always helps. I love asking people about their background - where they grew up, went to school, etc. If I notice someone wearing a smart watch, I’ll ask if what features they find to be helpful. I’ll compliment someone on the question they asked in the Q&A section or probe more about it. If you run out of ideas, comment on the food or beverage or the weather or current events. Of course, steer clear of controversial topics if you don’t know someone well or if that can become a trigger point to set you off.
#5 Make your follow-up count
The key to effective networking is the follow-up. Part of being purposeful and having a clear goal will be the next step. Connections are invaluable – and you never know how someone can impact you in this small, interconnected world.
Follow up with people via e-mail or a LinkedIn message (even if you connected with them at the event). Reference a key thing you touched on during the conversation even if there was no clear action step. Of course if you can find a way to be giving, that will truly make you stand out – for instance, if you promised to share a contact or an article or a book you enjoyed. Obviously, if you both agreed to have another conversation, be the one to initiate and offer up times to reconnect.
So next time you plan to attend an event, keep these 5 tips in mind. Trust me you’ll find networking to be a great way to learn, share and connect – and who knows -- make some amazing new friends, future business partners or colleagues in the process. Happy networking!