The cornerstone of most successful career paths is networking. While it can seem daunting to show up to an event alone, with the sole purpose of talking to and meeting new people, this is an important first step to building your sphere of influence. It’s completely natural to feel nervous at events like these, but it’s helpful to remember that almost every other person attending is also in your shoes. There are, however, right and wrong ways to go about expanding your network. There are also easier places to start. Here're some tips we like to implement in our social lives.
- Reconnect with old friends. One of the first (and easiest) things you can to do begin building your list of contacts is reach out to a friend whom you haven’t spoken with in a while. Sometimes, the people we need to know are right under our noses. Maybe contact this person on Facebook, and invite them out for coffee or a drink. Find out what they’re up to, and establish yourself as a person of value in their lives. They may just know the person that could end up landing you your next opportunity!
- Know your role. It’s paramount to understand (and be able to articulate) what you do, for whom, and what sets you apart from everyone else that does that same thing. It would be unfortunate to walk into a meeting or event, and not be able to answer this simple question, which will inevitably be asked of you. Ask yourself, why should these people care about what you’re saying? If you need to, practice this explanation, or write it down.
- Hold volunteer positions, and join organizations. One of the best ways to ensure that you stay top of mind in your community is to give back to it. This is also an excellent way to meet intelligent, interesting, and influential people! Work alongside these people, and eventually you will get to speak with them, and may even become good friends. This opens up a world of new connections that you otherwise would never have made.
- Be genuine, and be yourself. This is probably the most important rule of networking. Nobody wants to talk to someone who is being fake. This is the kind of sleazy person that many people think about when they picture ‘networking’. It doesn’t have to be like that! Be yourself, and connect with the people who like that person. Connect with people that you are genuinely interested in, and conversation will flow more freely.
- Don’t be a card spammer. Don’t feel like you have to give your business card to every single person at an event. This is a great way to waste all of your cards, and annoy the heck out of people. It’s unwise to try to meet as many people as possible in a room; focus each outing on making a few solid connections. It’s obvious when someone is only speaking with you to exchange cards and move on, and again, this tends to feel sleazy. Aim to create a meaningful dialog with a few people, and you will make a lasting impression on them.
- Ask great questions. This should be a given, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t ask good questions when making new connections. Ask people about themselves, and try not to talk about yourself too much. People love to talk about themselves, in general, so making people feel like you are interested in them, and there to help them, will make an impression on almost everyone.
- Always follow through quickly with referrals given. After a meeting or event, if the person you spoke with gave you a referral, following up with them in a timely manner is essential. This will show that you are eager to meet them, and that you are punctual and reliable. Be sure to let them know whom you got their contact information from, and try to set up a meeting while they are still fresh in your mind.
- Further a relationship by asking a favor. Having trouble cracking through someone’s tough exterior? Didn’t get along with someone right away? A great way to break the ice is to ask them for a small favor. Benjamin Franklin did this with a colleague that didn’t seem to like him. He heard that the man had a rare book in his collection, and asked to borrow the book. The man immediately sent him the book, spoke with him at their next event, and was eager to assist him (and accept assistance from him) until the day he died.
- Introduce two people you know, who should know each other. One thing that all great networkers do, is share their connections with others. Introduce two people you know who would mutually benefit from knowing each other. They will both be thankful, and return the favor when they feel you should know someone. This not only adds to your sphere, but also solidifies you as a person of value in both people’s lives.