When people talk about building a professional network, it’s often associated with attending happy hours and other meetings, shaking a bunch of hands, and collecting business cards. These are surely part of the picture, but too often people don’t realize the serious impact networking can have on their business. Networking is a fundamental skill of any business person, but in order for it to become a skill of yours, you have to understand how to do it well. Here I’ll give you some tips to improve your networking skills.
The goal with networking is to build a relationship, which takes more effort than a five-minute conversation. When you meet someone, make sure that you secure a means to follow-up with him or her. Ask for a business card, jot down an email address, or even just ask for their last name so you can add them on LinkedIn. Personally, I prefer email or phone info over LinkedIn (though you can always do both), but something is always better than nothing! Relationships aren’t built overnight, or in this case in five minutes, so make sure you have a way to continue building on the connections you make.
2. Have a Game Plan
It’s always best to have a plan for a networking conversation or networking event. For events, you should try and take a look at who will be attending, and who you would like to talk to and why you want to talk to them beforehand. Not all events will list the attendees, but you should consider who will be attending so you are prepared for prospective conversations. Aside from events, if you schedule a networking meeting or phone call, you should educate yourself on the person whom you’re meeting with. What do they offer you? What do you offer them? These are important questions to consider before your conversation.
3. Strike Up Conversations
At networking events people often perceive a large group of individuals as intimidating and they find it difficult to find their place. The reality is the vast majority of the people there are in the same boat as you! With that said, don’t be afraid to approach anyone. Sure, they may not be the person you came in the door wanting to meet, but you never know who could end up being a resource. You’ll be surprised by the number of valuable connections you can make by striking up a conversation with a random stranger!
4. Have a Balanced Conversation
It’s important to be mindful of the way your conversation is going with someone. You don’t want to just ramble about yourself, but you also don’t want to constantly avoid talking about yourself either. With that said, you have to find a way to balance talking about yourself and not talking about yourself at all. When the person you’re engaging asks you a question about yourself, of course answer in a friendly, genuine way; but then follow-up your response with a question about the other person. This way, your voice is heard without monopolizing the conversation.
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