For better or for worse, networking is a huge part of building a career, a business and a brand. Everyone talks about networking, but what is it? And how do you do it?
Networking is making person-to-person connections with the intention of forming a mutually beneficial business relationship. Sometimes, these relationships will be lopsided. You need something, or the person approaching you does. Networking happens at events – parties, meet and greets, panels, conferences, etc. – that are structured to facilitate new relationships, but you can also network anywhere, anytime, if you have good people skills and can identify the opportunity when it arises. In fact, it is often much harder to build connections at events designed to make introductions than it is in less formal and structured environments.
Regardless of the situation, here are six tips you can use to become a networking machine:
1. Be bold – If you’re a shy, retiring flower, these events are going to be hard on you. If you wait for people to come to you, it is unlikely that you’ll meet the people you’re interested in meeting. Generally, at structured networking events, the most desirable people are being approached and, like it or not, if you want to talk to them you have to join in the feeding frenzy. In more casual environments, you still have to be willing to step outside your comfort zone, but it’s less mortifying to make chatter at a bar.
2. Remain positive – This is a tricky one, but trust me – people will like you better and you will feel better about yourself and the things you’ve said if you work to focus on the positive when meeting new people, especially in a business situation. Talk about what you like, what you’re good at, people you get along with, things you enjoy about your work instead of griping, gossiping, or focusing on your own shortcomings. People don’t remember what you say, they remember how you make them feel, and exuding a positive vibe will give them good feelings when they walk away. This isn’t to say don’t admit faults or commiserate, just let them lead if you’re going down that path and make sure you keep your communal energy fun and positive.
3. Pitch yourself subtly – This instruction has two meanings. First, you want to be selling yourself. Make yourself look good as much as you can, express interest in projects and do your best to sound busy, capable and intriguing. On the other hand, do it subtly. Don’t give an all out pitch, don’t talk their ear off about you and your many accomplishments, and don’t talk shop the whole time. Act like a human, not a billboard.
4. Make a personal connection – Dovetailing on number 3, show an interest in the person you’re discussing both as a businessperson and as a real person. If you can find something you have in common aside from your work, you’re more likely to connect on a lasting, personal level. You want to like the people you work with, and so does everyone else.
5. Create a future – When possible, suggest a possible plan or express interest in a specific project or activity. Even if it doesn’t happen (“Oh, let’s get coffee some time!”), the thought shows interest going forward and can put you in communication. At the very least, it gives you a smoother way to pass on your business card than, “This was a nice talk. Here, take my card.” If it doesn’t feel natural, this can be skipped, but it’s something to consider.
6. Don’t linger – Know when the conversation is over and act accordingly. Feel out when you’re done with the event and go home. Always leave them wanting more.