Business professionals network for many reasons. While some people want to sell something, others want to meet people that could favorably influence their career. Others have relocated and want to establish themselves in a new community. Effective networking is not for the faint of heart, but it doesn’t have to be sheer pain either. As an executive coach, I challenge clients to reframe their reality. Reframing how we think about networking can help us do it more effectively and successfully. Try these 6 ways to increase your networking efficacy.
Have realistic expectations
You won’t know everyone in the room by the end of the night, so don’t expect to. Do you want to measure my success by the size of your stack of business cards by the end of the event? That could be indicative of too many superficial conversations. A few quality conversations constitute success. I was recently contacted by someone I had met once at an event almost a year ago. What did they remember about me that caused them to call? How did I show up that evening that made our interaction memorable? As I think back to it, we found that we had a number of things in common and we made a point to get to know one another.
Take the focus off yourself
Almost everyone likes to talk about themselves. If you are nervous about meeting others or sharing about yourself, try going on the offensive. “Tell me about you!” “I would love to hear more…” “I like hearing about…..” When our focus is not on ourselves, we don’t have any pressure. The other person we are having the conversation with feels honored and respected that we listened well. They will remember us as one of the few people at the event that cared to know them.
People are incredibly interesting. Each person has stories and enjoys sharing them when they are comfortable doing so. Asking open ended questions about the topics they are disclosing is a great way to get a conversation going. Let’s say they just shared about an amazing vacation they just completed. While I love vacations, I’m sure their vacation was unique in some way which prompts questions: how was that experience for you? What was the best part for you? What would you do differently next time? What are 2-3 other places on your vacation bucket list? What do you find interesting about those locations?
I have my networking heroes – those people that “can work a crowd” or simply can engage others with ease. How do they do that? For starters, they are comfortable in their own skin. They aren’t pretending to be anyone else but themselves. We can do the same thing for ourselves. Trying to be someone we are not can create an imposter syndrome. Authenticity, confidence, and vulnerability are people magnets. They come from the integrity of knowing who we are, what we stand for, what is real about us (including our faults), in addition to knowing who we are not.
Keep easy questions handy
“What brings you to this event?” “How’s your experience of networking going this evening?” “Tell me about the most interesting person you met this evening….perhaps I should meet them.” “What’s the best networking event you have gone to this year?” “What’s your most effective networking question?”
We can talk with anyone about anything if our questions express sincere interest and we feel comfortable about asking them.
Take a friend with you
Networking can bring out memories of junior high dances where the safest spot was against the wall with my buddies. Having a friendly face at the networking event can be reassuring. If you can resist the temptation to hang out only with your friend vs. just knowing they are there doing what you are doing, it can increase your resolve to be effective at the event. You can always meet with your friend later to talk about what you both accomplished. It’s not much different from having an accountability partner as you work at goal achievement.
You next job will likely result from someone you know who knows someone else. Effective networking is an essential skill that doesn’t need to come with pain and discomfort. Practicing it and gaining comfort with it is one of the best activities you can do for your career growth.