BY ANN BROWN
Networking can be a mystery. “For many people, especially ‘newbies’, the thought of attending a networking event can fill them with dread. The prospect of entering a room full of strangers, starting a conversation, maybe having to deliver a 60-second introduction to other attendees, sell their ‘stuff’ can seem daunting, far too stressful to entertain,” says counselor and hypnotherapist Susan Leigh of Lifestyle Therapy.
But we actually do some form of networking every day. “It’s easy to forget that we regularly network most days of our lives. We strike up conversations with strangers, discuss the requirements of our potential customers and clients, share updates on the latest business practices with colleagues, perhaps seek advice over a particular business problem or decision we’re working on,” Leigh points out.
There are certain habits that successful networkers have. Here are 15 of them.
1. Make your first impression matter: “Ensure that you present yourself as a smart professional, from the way you look and dress right through to any literature or handouts you may wish to distribute,” notes Leigh.
2. Always be prepared, but network smart: “Quality business cards are important, but use them appropriately and resist the temptation to hand them out like confetti, otherwise they may end up discarded in the recycling bin,” explains Leigh.
3. Read body language: You don’t want to network with someone who just wants to be left alone–and you can tell this by their body language. “Pay attention to the different groups of people and notice the signals their body language is displaying before you decide to approach. Some people may be there to specifically catch up with one particular person, are engrossed in their discussion and as such are in a ‘closed’ group. There’s no point trying to gatecrash their conversation. Look out for the more ‘open’ conversations, the people who wish to be joined by others,” suggests Leigh.
4. Network in your passion: “Find a niche that you’re passionate about and knowledgeable. There are professional networking groups based around the arts, nonprofits, local politics, alumni, etc.,” Austin-based networking expert Judah Ross notes. “It’s much easier to connect over a shared passion and then let that relationship blossom into strong work/professional connection.”
5. Be interested in the people you meet, what they do: “Ask about any problems or challenges they may be facing. People are often happy to talk about themselves and that’s fine. Remember, genuine relationships take time to establish,” explains Leigh.
6. Keep in touch: Stay connected, “maybe via email or with an occasional interesting and informative newsletter. Remember to follow-up on something you’ve been told or arrange to catch-up over coffee from time to time,” advises Leigh.
7. Keep your contacts organized: “Keep a comprehensive database where you keep track of people you meet and can include additional information beyond name, phone number, and email address. Long-forgotten relationships have interesting ways of re-appearing, and it is incredibly helpful to be able to go back in time and track the relationship,” offers Lauren Stiller Rikleen, President of Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership and author of “Ladder Down.” “Also, our memories can fail us. So being able to find people you previously met by searching your database for keywords (for example, you might remember where you met them, but not a specific name) is a tool that continually comes in handy. With a comprehensive database, it is all there for you. Don’t rely on social media to perform that function for you.”
8. Listen more than you speak: Don’t dominate the conversation. The key to good networking is listening and being fully present in the conversation.
9. Use event hashtags: “Not all networking needs to be done in person. Sometimes it can happen over Twitter,” explains SD Equity Partners co-founder and CEO Evan Harris. “If you are planning to attend or have recently attended an industry event, make sure to tweet about it using the event hashtag. This can help you to engage with other attendees and ultimately make connections. If the event hasn’t happened yet, make a plan to meet up prior to or during the event to continue the networking process. Or, if the event has already happened, start a conversation about things you learned from the event or any other insight you gained.”
10. Make the most of meals: “Never eat alone. Three meals a day, five work days a week, there’s 15 potential meetings an executive should be filling,” says Kristen McAlister, President of Cerius Executives and author of “How I Fired My Boss and Made More Money.”
11. Be a resource for others: “Seek how you can help others, not how they can help you. By learning about those you meet and how you can help them will end up helping you more than if you solely focus on what you want from others,” McAlister points out. Adds Ross, “The best networkers go out of their way to help their contacts, whether it be finding a job or connecting them with a new client. It makes you more valuable and always pays back.”
12. Become comfortable with yourself: If you are comfortable with yourself, then you will appear confident and people want to network with confident people.
13. Stay open-minded: “Don’t judge others and write them off just because you don’t see things the way they do. Instead, stay open-minded, be curious, and challenge yourself to understand things from their point of view. More often than conversations surrounding a difference in perspective can open opportunities you have never considered,” explains Source Capital Funding, Inc., founder and CEO Sacha Ferrandi.
14. Be interesting: Have something other than work to chat about when you are networking. “I travel frequently and have a variety of hobbies. Being able to share a common interest can be key in making that connection,” says Ross.
15. Broaden your network: “Your value is exponentially increased by the number of people you know and organizations that you’re a part of,” explains Ross.