Networking can seem stressful, but in today’s world, it is necessary for professional success. Professional networks lead to more job and business opportunities, broader and deeper
knowledge, improved capacity to innovate, faster advancement, and greater status and authority. Building and nurturing professional relationships also improve the quality of work and increases job satisfaction.
Here are some simple tips to make your networking experience more enjoyable and manageable:
1. Network with only one person at a time.
Don’t overwhelm yourself or others. The strength and longevity of your relationships depend more on the quality your connections. Spend more time with a smaller number of carefully chosen people. You do not have to meet everyone in the room. There will be more events and ample opportunities. At the next event, talk to someone you have not met before or someone who is sitting alone. Often, one-on-one conversations can turn into potential business opportunities.
2. Approach people who are different from you.
It is natural and comfortable to mingle with and gravitate toward people who are like us. But, what good does it do us to socialize with the same type of individuals all the time? When networking, try to step out of your comfort zone and broaden your horizons. Break away from the people you know or see all the time. Meet someone new, someone different from you—perhaps an individual from a different industry. The best business opportunities often arise when you approach people who are different from you. They may have an interesting perspective to offer to the conversation that can influence your business or your business’s growth.
3. Ask easy questions.
Don’t wait for someone to approach you. Take a deep breath, smile, and get the conversation started with some easy questions like “May I join you” or “What brings you to this event?” You can also ask, “What do you like to do in your spare time?” and “What motivated you to start your own business?” These kinds of questions usually encourage people to open up. Once you’re more comfortable with each other, the conversation will organically take its course. However, the most important thing is to intently listen to what your conversation partner has to say and respond thoughtfully.
4. Ditch the sales pitch.
Remember, networking is all about relationship building. Keep your exchange fun, light, and informal. The idea is to get the conversation started. People are more apt to do business with, or partner with, people whose company they enjoy. However, if a potential customer does ask you about your product or service, be ready with an easy and short description of your business. Once again, keep it simple. Before the event, you could even create a brief, mental list of recent accomplishments, such as a new client you’ve landed or project you’ve just completed. That way, you can quickly pull an item off that list and into the conversation, without diving too deeply into business talk.
5. Give with no expectations in return.
Instead of thinking about how others can benefit you, keep an eye open for opportunities to be a benefit to others. How can you be of service to them? Try to present a solution to their problem, or perhaps offer some advice. Be careful not to cross boundaries or insert your opinion where it might not be needed or welcome. Approach the conversation or the person respectfully and thoughtfully. For example, if you hear that someone may need a carpenter, and you know a carpenter, pass along their information. Your networking circle will not only grow, but people will remember you for your helpful suggestion and valuable information.
6. Share a personal story.
People remember and are transformed by stories because stories make us feel connected to one another. So, share a little bit about yourself – how you became interested in your profession, who inspired you to start your own business, or where you grew up. Leave a lasting impression by telling a story about why you were inspired to create your company or what led you to this point in your professional career. Keep it simple and light, and be genuine. People will naturally feel more comfortable talking with you.
7. Share your passion.
Win people over with your enthusiasm for your product or service, or another aspect of your profession. Sharing passions can be contagious—it can spread like wildfire. When you get other people to share their passions, it creates an interesting conversation in which everyone can be involved and sharing something personal about their lives.
8. Listen more than you talk.
Listening can be an excellent way to get to know a person. Do not take over the conversation. Focus more on the other person and less on yourself. Look people in the eye, repeat their name, listen to what they have to say, and suggest topics that are easy to discuss. Keep it simple. Become interested in others, find out what matters to them, and then center your conversations on their interests and priorities. When you are genuine and sincere, your network will organically grow.
9. Don’t forget to follow up.
Networking is where the conversation begins, not where it ends. If you have had a great exchange, ask your conversation partner the best way to stay in touch. Get in touch with them within 48 hours of the event to show you are interested and available.