When it comes to making business connections, expanding your rolodex or developing new relationships, nothing beats networking. Whether it’s a structured event, an informal gathering or an impromptu get-together, you will reap the benefits of networking for years to come.
If you are anything like me, the relationship building is not too hard, but it’s the networking process that makes you uncomfortable. I mean, who wants to feel phony or pretensive around new people?
So if someone says the word “networking” and all you imagine is being trapped in a room with strangers and being stumped about unique topics to discuss, here are 6 strategies that can get you off the hook:
1. Focus on building relationships and making new connections
No surprise here – when you walk into a networking environment, look around the room and relax. Everyone is there for the same reason, so it’s acceptable to talk business, but take it a step further and make new friends too. Listen for shared interests and mutual hobbies.
2. Remember that giving is as important as getting
Don’t underestimate what you bring to the table. What valuable information or resource can you share with someone? Can a personal introduction, a recommendation about a product or program or a helpful tip be exactly what one of new contacts need?
3. Be present, be attentive and be listening
The goal of networking is not have a conversation with everyone in the room. Make sure the person you are talking to gets your full attention – control wandering minds and eyes, put away cell phones and enjoy a genuine connection with the other person.
4. Keep a balance between quality and quantity
The sign of a successful networking event is not measured by the number of business cards you collect. Most networking events will have plenty of attendees, so you have to be strategic about who spend your time with – go with your gut, pay attention to his/her vibe and leverage those conversations that really flow well.
5. The fruit is in the follow up
Don’t wait until several weeks have passed to re-connect with a new contact. Within 24-48 hours, an email, LinkedIn request, personal letter or note to all the new friends you made to stay fresh in their minds.
6. Pick networking events that make sense for you
You will find it easier to make friends and build relationships with like-minded people. Every networking event, even if it’s popular, will not always be the right one for you. Being successful in networking will require that you bypass “good” things and make time and room for great things.
Still anxious or uncomfortable with networking? Start with baby steps by going to alumni events, social clubs, affinity group activities and take advantage of social media updates to find out about new groups or events. Go ahead and get to networking now.