Networking is about building lasting relationships and cultivating them over time. It’s an art, a science and one of the most important skills to have. There are many reasons to network: to expand your contacts, develop business partnerships, find a better job or find some better workers. The more people you meet, the larger your network and the greater the odds of being helped out when you need it.
More importantly, it’s a task that many of us find daunting and dread. It’s not something that comes naturally to everyone, and more often than not, you may be doing it wrong. Here are five tips anyone can use, whether you’re an extrovert who loves to network or an introvert who cringes at the thought of it.
Tip #1 Do your research
If you’re attending an event, research what kind of event it is and who will be attending. Always come prepared so that you do not waste time by asking for basic details you could easily learn on your own. Meetings will be much more productive if you ask relevant questions. This way, the person you’re networking with is more likely to be impressed by your commitment and knowledge, and recommend you to their contacts.
Tip #2 Listen
Unfortunately, when one thinks of networking, one often thinks of all the right and wrong things to say or do. A lot of people forget that networking is a two-way street – it’s about communication, and there are always two sides to communicating – talking and listening. The latter is often underestimated.
Networking is a conversation; it’s about being genuine. Do not use it as a one-sided broadcast intended to promote yourself. No one likes conceited people who cannot stop talking about themselves.
Listen and learn something new about the person. Learning is never wasted. Moreover, everyone likes being listened to and feeling like they’re important. This will most likely enable you to build a lasting relationship with them.
Tip #3 Give
Often people go to network with a “what’s in it for me?” attitude. We usually have a set of expectations when we network with other people – we have certain things we want to achieve, whether it’s a job or a handful of business cards.
This is the wrong attitude to have. Again, networking is a two-way street. You have to be prepared to give, offer value to the other person, and genuinely be interested in helping them out too. Do you have any expertise or advise you could offer? Do you have any connections in a certain field? Or an interesting lead for them?
Tip #4 Find common ground
Again, do your research. If you know whom you will be meeting or what event you will be attending, go ahead and do your research.
“Go on Facebook, go on LinkedIn, and see what information this person has freely given about himself or herself,”
“It’s not secret if they’re talking about it online, and if you find that commonality or two, you can go there and zero in.”
It has been scientifically proven that people who have things in common are more likely to create a level of shared trust and bond quicker. Commonalities don’t have to be huge or meaningful – it could simply be a country you both visited, a sport you both enjoy or a book you’ve both read
If you have just met the person unexpectedly, don’t hesitate to offer information about yourself, so long as it’s appropriate.
“There’s research that shows that self-disclosure is reciprocal,” says Cialdini. That means that if you share details about yourself, he says, “people will tell you about themselves, and when you hit on a commonality, all of a sudden there’s rapport.”
Another way to find common ground is small talk. Chitchat about what they did over the holidays or where they travelled. Spending time socializing on a non-professional level is an icebreaker and smooth out future interactions. Those few minutes you spend on what seems like trivial nonsense, can actually help build a lasting relationship by making the other person warm up to you.
Tip #5 Follow-up
Networking isn’t just about going to that dreaded event and having those dreaded conversations and getting what you expected. It’s about forming lasting relationships and cultivating them over time. And relationships require investment.
Don’t just throw those business cards on your desk and be satisfied with yourself – connect with those people on LinkedIn, or send a friendly email when you find an article he or she might be interested in. You can even send a message about how you enjoyed the conversation and ask to grab a coffee. Following-up just may be the most important aspect of networking – it allows people to remember you.
So get out there & start networking!