Networking is a vital part of my business development. But I want to confess…I hate networking! Contrary to public opinion, I am quite reserved and while I have served in many leadership positions, walking in a room of 200 people and making small talk just TERRIFIES me! I would rather conduct a training to large groups than go up to a stranger and say, “how’re you liking this weather today?” In business today, we cannot effectively build business without building relationships. And building relationships begin with networking. Over the years, I have learned some tricks that I want to share with you:
1. Play the learning game. When you are genuinely interested in what people do and how they do it, you are more apt to get to the next level in relationship building. While I don’t much like going to the overly-crowded-sweaty-palm networking events, I do LOVE people. I am genuinely interested in why people choose the path they’ve chosen; people like to talk about themselves. You just have to listen – you never know what you will learn.
2. Open up to the influence of others. Early in my business, I realized that the network of people I associate with and the spheres of influence they represent were critical to my personal and professional development. Over the past 20 years, I’ve met mentors who started as networking contacts and after a few conversations, I simply asked – “would you mind mentoring me?” The answer was always YES! Genuine people don’t mind reaching back and helping others. The key is for YOU to reach back and help someone too.
3. Join and Work! Join professional organizations. That’s a no-brainer right? Joining is only half of what you have to do. You have to work in the organization. I love to entertain and I have used that love in my networking life. When I join organizations, I immediately join a committee so I can “host” my guests. For someone who is reserved, this is a great way to break out of your shell. Keep in mind…don’t join more organizations than you can fully commit to; you don’t want to overdo it. Quality is much better than quantity.
4. Be careful of the pitfalls. If you’re not careful, you can make grave mistakes. Don’t overdo it, don’t be false and don’t be a collector. Business card collector, that is. Give yourself a goal – how many people do you want to meet? Once you’ve made quality connections, that’s your cue to leave. Save the longer conversations for the follow-up meeting.
5. And yes…you must FOLLOW UP! The biggest faux pas is that people don’t follow up. You have to follow up – and not just through LinkedIn. Call to make it personal, even an email works, but adding the personal touch makes you more memorable. Have a brief conversation to determine if a face-to-face conversation is needed. The key is that you want something from your contact – make it convenient for them.
Networking is necessary. Make sure you are confident and prepared – with goals for each event you attend. Good luck and happy meeting!