Networking is about the power of connection. It is an endless opportunity to create new friendships and partnerships for growth, while also becoming an advocate and mentor for others. In order to harness the full potential of networking, we must learn to be strategic in our approach. To do this let's begin by learning how to build the ultimate networking game plan. Outlined below are five techniques to achieve real benefits from networking.
Be Prepared & Be Curious
Being prepared means being conversational. Every event, every meeting is an opportunity to better know someone. Without questions or goals, it becomes networking for the sake of networking, and that is not fun. Instead, let curiosity lead you by being genuinely interested in learning more about the individuals you meet. Typically, employers will research potential hires prior to interviewing them. We should be doing the same with new connections. Research their company, find out what organizations they are passionate about or what are their hobbies. These topics will allow you to lead the conversation and find common ground. Most importantly, always have a purpose for the meeting - whether it’s to build your network, make a new client, or get advice from a mentor.
Explore Your Network
How does your network weigh in? Have you reviewed your LinkedIn contacts recently? If more than 50% of your connections are in the same industry then it’s time to go outside (your network) and start exploring. Your network cannot benefit you if you only have individuals from your “inner circles”. Start by breaking your networking efforts into two tiers, trade and expansion. Events centered around your trade should be for the purpose of career education and learning. Attend events outside your industry for personal and professional expansion. Your goal should be to build a network of supporters, mentors, and advocates. These “outsiders” have the potential to bring a fresh perspective, to help you land your dream job, or connect you with your next client. Remember, the possibilities are endless once we force ourselves to expand beyond the limits of comfort.
Observe How Others Introduce You
How are you introducing yourself to others? Are you telling them what you do for a living or maybe what you’re passionate about. Do you share your goals or your favorite motto? The way we choose to describe ourselves during that first introduction is important. Why? Because that is how others will introduce us. Speak with authority, have an elevator pitch prepared and make sure what you choose to say is an accurate projection of yourself. If we practice what we want to say it will create confidence and easier conversation. Focus on what your audience needs to hear and deliver it boldly. What you choose to tell them today is what they will say about you tomorrow.
Nurture Your Cheerleaders
You know those guys standing on the sidelines rooting you on every step of the way, always saying “you’ve got this”? Those are your cheerleaders. They may be your friends, family, coaches, peers, or even your neighbor. Think about who you would identify as your cheerleader. Was it someone who introduced you to your first client? Was it someone who invested time in helping you prepare for a big speech? Write down a list of their names and reach out to them. Tell them thank you. As your advocates, they deserve to be acknowledged and to know how much their support means to you. Reconnect with them, continue to ask questions, and find out how you can return the favor. It’s important to keep them in your corner but to also rally behind them in support of nurturing each other.
Networking is an interaction, not a solo expedition. Yes, we’re making connections for professional growth. But it goes beyond that. We should strive to be a COI, a center of influence. If you have a connection you can share with someone then make an introduction and let them know why you brought them together. If you have a list of people you want to meet, reach out to one of your shared connections and ask them for an introduction. Networking as a whole is more than just collecting business cards for our own purpose. In order to get the most out of our networking efforts, we have to be willing to give back. We can do this by connecting others, guiding someone in a new career, or by feeding our network with useful knowledge. As with most things in life, what you put in is what you get out.
The most valuable connections exist when we focus on listening and learning from each other. When that opportunity arises, speak with authority and be confident in telling your story. Remember, the power of networking is not just the number of contacts you have but rather the breadth of those contacts. Continue to project how you can help others by being a decision-maker, a resource, and/or a cheerleader.
Start today by exploring networking events in your area and discover the real benefit of networking. New opportunities, new connections, and new friendships await you.