by Shelli Vasser Gilliam, Global Public Speaking Coach
How important is networking to you and the success of your business? If it is important, how much time do you invest in networking? Are you content to connect with people online, or would you rather spend time meeting in person?
Becoming a successful networker does not include the number of business cards you collect or how many people allow you to connect with them on social media. The purpose of your interaction is to meet people and cultivate relationships.
Effective networking allows you to build trust and credibility and forge strong relationships with people at all levels. It is a business marketing and promotion strategy that, when done correctly, leads to joint ventures, sharing resources, and investing in people, projects, and organizations.
Have you ever watched someone enter a room and noticed how people quickly make their way toward that person? The person seemed to move effortlessly about the room, getting to know people and communicating with ease.
Alternatively, have you watched someone walk through a networking reception only stopping long enough to state their name, title, and affiliation, and hand out business cards or scan their QR code to connect on LinkedIn?
Many of us subconsciously recognize good and bad networking techniques in others but not necessarily in ourselves. At Global Public Speaking, we believe networking is an important form of public speaking, and we want you to feel confident every time you use your voice.
Here are 7 proven strategies to help you connect, engage, and create a successful networking experience, taken directly from our “Networking with Confidence” module.
1) Determine your goal(s).
Before you attend any networking event, it is important to have a goal beyond meeting new people. Establishing a goal for attending the event gives you a sense of purpose and direction on how to proceed.
For example, are you looking to meet five new people intending to explore potential alliances or find resources to help expand your business? Or, is your goal to reconnect with current clients to discover information about new programs or discuss recent updates?
If you’ve only had conversations virtually or through social media, your purpose could include meeting people in person to begin engaging with them in a different way.
2) Do your research.
Meeting people for the first time can seem daunting. By finding out as much as you can about the people with whom you would like to meet, it can become a more comfortable experience.
We recommend consistently using these strategies: 1. Follow the person on social media and comment, share, or react to their content prior to the event. 2. Discover information about their role or company. 3. Determine whether they are connected to people whom you know. 4. Learn what types of projects they have been involved with in the past. And importantly, 5. Find out whether they have a specific role in the event you’re attending. For example, are they speaking, sponsoring, or hosting the event?
This insight will give you a starting point to engage in conversation and build confidence.
3) Prepare yourself.
Preparation is key to your success.
Start by preparing a one-sentence introduction that flows and feels authentic when you speak. Avoid using jargon, acronyms, and trendy cliches. Your introduction includes your name, brief mention of your background or area of interest, and something you’re working on that you’d like others to know about.
In a recent LinkedIn poll, we learned that coming across as “salesy” was the number one hurdle preventing people from networking with confidence. And it should be a concern because networking is not the time to ‘sell’ or ask for business. Networking takes energy and focused effort. It is about listening intently, sharing briefly, and offering your support and available resources.
Remember some people may be hesitant to connect immediately and others may not have a need for your business. When meeting someone for the first time, allow your curiosity to kick in, listen, and gather information. Do not allow the fear of rejection to consume you.
4. Remain flexible.
A savvy networker meets people on their list and many others, as well.
With shifting priorities, changing schedules, and pop-up meetings, there’s always a chance that the person you would like to meet will not attend the event, or their arrival may be delayed. This applies to virtual and in-person networking.
Also, keep in mind the person whom you are looking for may send someone else in their place. Remain flexible, meet people who are on your list, and continue socializing in a strategic way.
5. Connect confidently.
When attending an in-person event, arrive early, quickly review nametags on the registration table, and peruse the list of sponsors or hosts on digital signage.
When entering the event, confidently survey the room. Look for small groups or individuals standing by themselves. People tend to gather in the center of the room or near food and beverages. Go toward the perimeter of the room. Hopefully, you’ll be welcomed into a conversation. If not, move on to speak with someone else.
An important tenet of networking is listening. Listen more than you speak; specifically, listen to learn. Wait for a natural break in the conversation and ask questions, such as – What brings you to this event? How do you know the host? What keeps you busy when not attending these events?
For virtual networking events, use the chat feature to send direct messages or general comments. If you are placed in breakout groups, use that opportunity to meet, listen to, and learn from others.
6. Introduce your new connections.
Introducing new connections to others in the room will set you apart when networking. That is why it is important to listen to what people say. Then, share a summary of what you learned when you connect the person with someone else.
Are you hosting or sponsoring the event? Networking is a critical part of the package. Discuss your goals and strategy with your leaders and colleagues before the event and then spread out to meet your guests, engage in conversation, and connect them with others.
For example, while attending a networking event, I met someone who only knew a few people. I asked questions to find out more about them and gauge their interest. Then, I introduced them to other people and checked in periodically to ask if I could introduce them to someone else. As a board member of the host organization, it was my responsibility to ensure this person felt connected and enjoyed the event.
With this strategy, you’ll meet new people and find that your name will quickly spread across the room because of your connections and introductions to others.
7. Follow through.
By this point, you’ve invested a lot of time and energy in your networking strategy. Following through is an important step to seal the initial connection and open the path for your future communication.
When is the appropriate time to reach out? What do you say? We suggest following up the next day with an email or connection invitation referencing your conversation during the event. Another effective strategy includes offering to share resources and connecting the person with others.
If someone you planned to meet did not attend, search for them online, follow up, and let them know you missed seeing them and would like to connect. This is also a good time to congratulate them on a recent award or promotion, or share your interest in the latest news about their organization.
Meeting people for the first time can become a more comfortable experience when you consistently use these strategies. Think of networking as expanding your opportunities to meet people. It works both ways – you can offer to help or lend support, and you can meet someone who will have a long-lasting, positive impact on your life or career. Proper planning, preparation, and consistent follow-through will help you build strong relationships and network with confidence.