"I like to define networking as cultivating mutually beneficial, give-and-take, win-win relationships… The end result may be to develop a large and diverse group of people who will gladly and continually refer a lot of business to us, while we do the same for them." –Bob Burg
Are great networkers born or made? I’d argue both. Great networking may seem like it only comes from extroverts, but it can be easily mastered by anyone. It may seem intimidating to take a chance with everyone you meet, but it opens doors, relationships, and learning experiences. There is never a bad time to network as long as you read the signs right. These 9 tips can refine your skills, or provide new insight into successful networking.
The end goal: create a positive and lasting impression.
9 Networking Tips
1. Bring your business card, but only exchange them when the time is right.
Common advice is to bring your resume or business card and hand them out like free money. However, it can seem too pushy giving a card when it’s not appropriate. It’s wise to have them available in case your conversation ends with a call to action. You can have your information available without shoving your card in the faces of those you want to impress. It’s appropriate to ask well-thought-out questions, and if the conversation is meaningful and you have established some follow-up actions, then trade cards.
2. Leave your friends, they’ll still be there.
In any setting, it’s scary to be on your own. But in a networking environment, you want to come across calm, collected, and confident. Sometimes, that means attending an event alone, or leaving your friends at the door. It’s great to be accompanied by friends, but do not be afraid to break apart from your group and put yourself out there. Maybe you’ll get to introduce yourself to that one CEO you’ve been eyeing. Your friends will still be your friends tomorrow, but that CEO may be leaving town tonight. Remember: you are at a networking event, so everyone else will also be looking for new people to speak to. Your fellow networkers will appreciate that you are taking the initiative to reach out and say hello, rather than stand with people you already know.
3. Find a connection.
A great way to stand out when talking to anyone, not just someone you want to impress, is to find a commonality. Did your parents grow up in the same town? Did you both study biomedical engineering? Do your kids both love that annoying TV show about dogs? We all remember people by their connections. People love to talk about themselves, so it’s a great way to take the pressure off by “passing the mic”. If you can, research the person you are trying to meet beforehand, and come up with a few things you can connect over to ease the tension. Here are some examples of conversations starters to keep in your back pocket.
4. “Fake it until you make it.”
It’s an age old adage, but it has not gone out of style. To clarify, this does not mean be a fake person or be disingenuous. This means if you are usually shy and introverted, pretend to be an extrovert for a day. Again, back to confidence, if you think you are, you will act like it.
5. Share your passion.
You don’t have to make your job or your opportunities your passion, but be prepared to answer the common question, “What are you passionate about?” Be ready with two or three things to answer with. Passion shows drive, motivation, and energy. It will make you seem like a go-getter, and it also gives insight to who you are as a person. Talking about what you love is contagious. When you get other people to share their passion as well, it creates a memorable conversation. You never know who shares the same passions as you!
Networking is marketing. Marketing yourself, marketing your uniqueness, marketing what you stand for. - Christine Comaford-Lynch
6. Follow up.
You don’t want to be forgotten after you put yourself out there, so make sure you follow up. Always write a thank you note after meeting with someone, whether it was an informational interview, a coffee, or a phone call. It will not only help you stand out, but it will keep you in their minds going forward. It’s also a great way to show you’re thankful for their time. A simple phone call, email, LinkedIn message, or letter will do. It's often said that networking is where the conversation begins, not ends.
7. Be aware of your body language.
If you have seen Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk, then you know how much your body language can influence you and others. When you are in a networking setting, people are gathering information about you just by how you are acting, standing, dressing, and behaving. All this even before speaking to you. In order to prepare for this, try recognizing your nervous ticks, such as nail biting or hair twirling. In order to make yourself feel more confident, go to the bathroom before you network, and stand like Superman for two minutes. It will make you feel better. The more space you try and take up (e.g.. standing with hands on hips) the more confident you will feel. The more closed you are (e.g. crossed arms) the more it signals to others that you are not comfortable. Don’t forget to smile! While you’re focusing on who is who, and what is where, don’t forget to smile. All too often we aren’t paying attention to how our face looks, and first impressions matter. Don’t forget to smile! You don’t want to seem nervous or frustrated when introducing yourself to a future opportunity.
8. Ask questions.
You can’t assume the person you are talking to will do all the talking. It’s always a good idea to prepare three generic questions to ask. It can be awkward during a lull in the conversation if you’re not prepared to ask questions. It’s a great way to extend conversations with the added bonus of making you appear more interested and genuine, especially in a curated networking session.
While thinking about what questions are coming up next may make you nervous, don’t forget to listen. When you follow up, you want to remind the person what you talked about. Listen to their stories and their hidden tips. Be respectful, and make sure you aren’t rushing to get all the words out of your mouth before you hear the end of your networkers sentence. Be interesting and interested simultaneously.
You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you. - Dale Carnegie