Networking. Some love it; some dread it. Regardless, the ability to network is crucial. In fact, research confirms a significant correlation between the ability to network and long-term professional success.
Here are six powerful networking strategies to help you become a more effective networker. Use them at professional events, industry conferences, receptions after a trade show, charitable fundraisers, and more. Introvert or extrovert, these ideas work — while assuring that you stay true to who you are.
1. Motivate Yourself
It is well-documented that externally imposed motivators don’t work as well as internal motivators. So your mindset is key. The Harvard Business Review article, “Learn to Love Networking,” says, “Most people have a dominant motivational focus—what psychologists refer to as either a ‘promotion’ or a ‘prevention’ mindset.” The promotion mindset thinks of networking in terms of development, learning, and achievement. The prevention mindset views networking as a required task and a professional responsibility.
So emphasize the promotion mindset. Networking helps your business, your clients, and advances your profession. It presents an opportunity to learn, build your professional circle, enjoy new experiences, and, who knows, you may meet someone truly interesting.
2. Do Some Pre-Network Preparation
Think about the type of event you’re attending and who might be there. Conversation starters for a business reception will be different than for a charitable event. Also, is there a specific person you’d like to introduce yourself to?
People you meet will want to know more about you. Be prepared to answer their questions and open the door to a conversation. While your answers should not be scripted, you should feel comfortable answering questions about what you do, your professional expertise, and your interests. Finding shared interests or a common point-of-view often leads to a meaningful connection.
For more preparation tips, read Arden Coaching’s blog: “How to Prepare for Your Next Networking Event.”
3. Create Achievable Goals for Yourself
Set two or three realistic goals for the networking event. For example, “I will attend tonight’s event for at least one hour and introduce myself to five new people.” Goal setting is especially valuable for introverts. Once you achieve your goal, declare victory! The more you do this, the more comfortable you will feel at networking events.
4. Listen More Than You Speak
Most people are quite pleased to talk about themselves. Prepare some conversation starters — open-ended questions that go beyond the cliche (for more about open-ended questions, read Arden Coaching’s blog, “How (and Why) to Ask Open-Ended Questions”). Ask about business, hobbies, or the most surprising thing they learned at today’s conference (and be prepared to talk about the most surprising thing you learned at today’s conference as well). Be sincerely curious to learn more about the person you are speaking to. They may become important business contacts — or perhaps you’ll discover a new friend.
5. Recognize that You Have Value to Offer
Many people dislike networking because they feel they are being mercenary. That feeling is stronger when people feel they have nothing to offer in return. Consider how you might be helpful to the people you meet. When you believe you have something of value to share — industry knowledge, connections to others, advice — networking feels less selfish and becomes easier.
6. Be Open to What’s Next
Did you encounter someone you’d like to know better? Do you want to know more about their business? Their expertise or interests? Make sure you get their contact information (yes, everyone should still carry business cards, including you). Invite them to talk further over a cup of coffee.
More Useful Tips
Our 40 year-old selves typically wish that our 20 year-old selves had truly understood networking’s value, importance, and impact. Work on these strategies. Like many things in life, the more you do it, the better you’ll become, and the more comfortable you’ll feel. Imagine, networking could even become…fun!
For more great tips on networking, read the Arden Coaching blog: “Make the Most of Your Next Networking Event.”
To learn more about executive coaching, communication, and networking, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 646.844.2233.