6 Strategies to Help You See Networking in a New Light and Make Better Connections
Networking is critical for professional success. Many jobs now depend on easygoing social skills, and that makes a career entirely dependent on networking. Networking means smiling, knowing your stuff, and being able to handle meetings over coffee or cocktails.
The secret to successful networking, however, isn’t simply making the connections. It means getting to know people, and networking with people with whom one genuinely enjoys working. So the key to successful networking is creating real relationships. It seems that it should be an intuitive activity, but in fact, networking is challenging for many. So here are some tips for successful networking:
Make a Genuine Connection
It feels good to get to know people. It makes meetings feel less like meetings. When you have to have a hard conversation with someone or work through the boring details of legislation or a contract or proposal, it helps to have a cocktail at the end of the evening with someone you actually like. It’s important to take the work out of networking. Make a genuine connection. Some ways to do this:
- Remember the names of people’s kids and pets. It may sound like a trivial thing, but the next time you meet someone and ask about their child or Golden Retriever by name, they’ll remember it! And they’ll remember you that you took the time to recall something important about them.
- Does this person like a sport? Movies? Have an intense love for a college alma mater? It may not seem like those things matter in business, but being able to summon facts and traits about a person, instead of merely concentrating on the minutiae of a business transaction, will give you an advantage. More importantly, it will enrich your life too.
Don’t Be a Wallflower
We’ve all been to those events where our instinct is to down a glass of wine, play on our phone, and hightail it out of there as soon as possible. Have you been to a conference where you felt out of your element during the social events? It’s time to find your element! Maybe it’s a reception. Maybe it’s a small gathering with conference attendees. Whatever the event, find the place where you feel most comfortable getting to know others. Also take the time to find your element during day-to-day work scenarios – standing by the elevator, in the cafeteria — in addition to conferences.
Use Social Media to Make Friends
If done well, networking doesn’t happen solely in the span of a coffee meeting. Social media has made it easy to get to know people without actually knowing them, with sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Snapchat providing great outlets to get to know other professionals. It can also provide topics of conversation the next time you see them in person. That said, it’s a great tool, but don’t let it be a crutch. Social media is not real life, and assuming that everything someone posts on social media tells you everything you need to know – so to speak — is a mistake. Use it to open a conversation, but let the conversation then guide you into a real connection.
It may seem like networking isn’t an important part of your to-do list, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Don’t think of networking as a cumbersome item on a list of tasks. Instead, integrate it into your daily routine.
So often, people have different professional personas from their personal ones. While one certainly can be more relaxed when hanging out with friends, be “yourself” professionally as well! That doesn’t mean drinking like you would with your friends, or telling off-color jokes — but people can tell when you’re not being genuine. Creating genuine connections goes both ways. So be honest and straightforward. Make eye contact. Have a firm handshake. People will remember it if you don’t, and it won’t be a fond memory.
Think Outside the Office
The best meetings are ones that happen outside a rigid office setting. Sp try coffee, lunch, a cocktail or meeting at a neutral site. It helps foster creativity and a more natural association. Networking is more art than science. Try this simple exercise: the next time you’re at a networking event, strike up a conversation with a stranger. Do not ask them what they do for a living, or where they work. Instead, find out something more intimate and more interesting that will help you remember them.
Be yourself. Grab coffee with a new professional acquaintance. Have lunch instead of meeting in someone’s office. Ask genuine questions, and create genuine connections. Remember that a business meeting isn’t and shouldn’t be only about business. The interesting part? Making an effort to keep the human element at the forefront will take your professional relationships to the next level, while allowing you to feel good about your interactions.8