Networking is one of those business-world buzzwords that everyone uses but few people understand. “Networking” isn’t just shaking the right hands or flashing the right smile. It is more than being personable and charismatic or regularly updating your social media. It is doing so strategically. The next time you are invited to a networking event or an event with networking potential adapt your game plan to utilize these five tips.
- Start Early: People frequently make the mistake of waiting too long to engage. In short, don’t. Networking events are exhausting, and when someone is tired they are far less likely to care about your spiel than when they were fresh and sober. Don’t wait for the free liquor to warm up your confidence. Instead arrive confident then engage early and close cleanly. Your preparation and confidence will show.
- Value Everyone: Yes, every event will have its big fish and its little fish, but aiming solely for the top is rarely going to be your best strategy. There’s a reason Herman Melville’s Ahab is considered a tragic hero. Little fish, like you, are just as hungry for opportunity yet fewer people are vying for their attention. They might be well connected. They might have a great product. Or they might just have something you need. You never know, so dismiss no one.
- Have a Plan: Just showing up with a plan to ‘network’ isn’t going to cut it. You need to get more specific. Are you looking for a mentor, a business partner, a client, an opportunity for cross-promotion or some combination of these? Do you know how you would pitch yourself and/or your company in each of these scenarios? If not, it’s time to get to work. You should know your goals for the evening and prepare your talking points ahead of time. Yet don’t be too pushy or self-absorbed once you’re there either, which brings us too…
- Be a Connector: Reciprocity is a powerful social instinct. By connecting two other people together, you are proving that you not only thought of them beyond their usefulness to you but that you listened well to each of them in the first place. That is a striking indicator of your character and automatically inclines both of those individuals to want to help you. They will likely even go above and beyond to actively help you just to return the favor.
- Take Notes & Follow-up: Last but not least, make sure you follow up soon after the networking event – between 24 to 48 hours later. If you wait longer than two days, the chances of your contact remembering you and taking your interest seriously rapidly diminish. Taking notes can help with keeping your initial interactions authentic. As long as doing so doesn’t interfere with your ability to carry on a conversation, taking notes while networking actually makes you appear more attentive and genuine.