Have your networking skills gotten rusty over the past 18 months? It seems a lot of highly successful networkers have moved over to Zoom and social media of late – and the results are very mixed. Some of us never quite understood or enjoyed networking to begin with, and we are scrambling to avoid it all the more. However, as events are increasingly going back to in-person it is time to connect on a more personal level. I make it a point to never leave a networking event (or any event, for that matter) without at least three people I really want to follow up with and create a deeper connection.
Networking Skill #1: Curiosity
There is still a common misperception that the most successful networkers have their elevator pitch razor sharp and are the ones best able to share what they do. I find that almost the opposite is true. When I ask questions about the other person, their recent wins and even frustrations, their experience with the organization or their industry, I can have a more relaxed and productive conversation.
My favorite two questions are:
1. What are you most proud of in your business/career/role right now?
2. Who can I introduce you to?
Networking Skill #2: Creating Connections Not Customers
When we enter an event singularly focused on finding and capturing our next client or customer, our neediness can quickly become repulsive. This misconception is the root of the distaste expressed about networking. It makes us feel dirty – and it makes the other person feel dirty too. The result is even if someone is a potential customer, they will try to get away from a hard sell as fast as possible.
The better approach is to understand who they serve and what they offer, and collaboratively determine if there are connections you each have that you can share with one another. This generous approach quickly builds rapport, and ironically, often leads to recognizing that there is a good fit between the two of you.
Networking Skill #3: Having a Strategy
Haphazard networking creates haphazard results. Having a strategy helps make the most of your financial and time investment. It needn’t be overly complicated, but it does need a clear set of goals.
My strategy has these simple steps:
Make networking a priority, but keep it manageable.
No more than three memberships at any given time, and keep those diverse (for example, one women’s organization, one entrepreneurial organization, and one community organization)
Have one or two days a week that are primarily networking days, so my days are not too fractured. Follow-up coffees and conversations are included in this plan.
Have 3-4 hours a week where pop-up networking opportunities might fit.
Reassess my involvements on an annual basis and explore at least one new one. If one just isn’t providing the volume or quality of connections you need – move on.
Expect to get involved in a volunteer capacity in at least one group to really grow those relationships.
Haphazard networking creates haphazard results.
Networking Skill #4: Plan to Follow Up
This is the biggest failing of the amateur networker. Whether you believe someone you met is your next client or not, connect with them right away in shared social platforms. Email them. Tell them something you remember about them that stood out. This is especially true if you uncovered connections to share, or believe there’s a possibility one of you is ready to engage the other person’s services.
You would be amazed how many of us leave the event with all the best intentions to follow-up, and then never do! Much of that is because we didn’t block the time to do so on our calendar from the minute we booked the event.
Networking Skill #5: Come Armed with Offers
Not everyone has a retreat or program to provide at every event, but if you have a freebie, a download, or a book – bring info about it to every event you attend and share it. If you can offer the group a discount on something of value, then do that as well. Many times these are more effective than your elevator pitch at creating trust and interest. You don’t have to be the guest speaker to do this. Just hand the info out as you would your business card.
Networking Skill #6: Give More Than You Take
The more you offer to introduce people, share insights and information, the more trust and confidence you instill. Whether you step up to volunteer or offer support on an individual level, you will be building your authority as a person who is reliable and helpful. That doesn’t mean sharing your proprietary process and programs for free, nor does it mean giving away your valuable time for nothing. It means being generous with your empathy, compassion and experience.
Networking Skill #7: Know Who You Are
More important than your elevator pitch (apologies to the elevator pitch fans) is knowing your values, your mission and your purpose. Almost anyone can be a coach, sell real estate, provide financial services, start a company, and so on. But no one can do it like you do, because your personal values are unique to you.
If you don’t know what is unique to you, you will wind up talking about what you do, rather than why you do it. As a result, you become forgettable. When you talk about your unique vision and approach, you attract the perfect clients and partners easily and rapidly.
Networking Skill #8: Show Up
Not all networking is in person, of course. Still whether it is live or virtual, it only works when you really show up fully. If it is virtual, plan to be at your computer. Turn on your camera, and be 100% engaged. If you can’t do that small task, you have not created an effective networking strategy for yourself. Also, when you only show up 50% everyone else on the call is 100% aware of it. They recognize the level of engagement and personal investment you are making in them, and they will most likely give back precisely the amount to you that you gave to them.
Secondly, if you are thinking “but I’m an introvert, and I get overwhelmed by all this interaction,” I hear you. Believe it or not, even Ms. Extrovert herself needs a chance to recover from the energy networking can demand. So, build a little buffer for yourself into those days you plan to network. Don’t expect to meet a high-pressure deadline immediately following a networking event without some serious energy infusion.
Networking Is A Skill of Discernment
We live in an interconnected world with the internet. People can send a message and get an instant connection. What you do with that connection next is key for successful networking.
Social media is a great avenue for people to exchange ideas and meet new contacts. But, it never will have the same power as a face-to-face meetup with someone. Communication is at its strongest when two people can see each other. People learn more about others in a few seconds of in-person contact than they ever could with a strictly online one. Networking is about engaging with others and a certain give-and-take involved in the exchange.
Online connections do have their place. They can be a great starting point in the networking hierarchy of events. Just be certain you don’t use them as a place to hide from the real work of networking itself. They can be a great way to meet with people who you would never have using traditional means. However, networking has never been about quantity. It is about quality. And quality depends on you, and your skill at moving out of the shadows and being authentically you.
There is no magic formula for networking, although some techniques may work better than others. Whatever you do, be you, and be of service. That’s how your network is built – one trust-filled relationship at a time.
For more information about how to grow your influence and impact, download a copy of my ebook, The Art of Persuasion.