At some point, you will attend a networking event. It might be during a conference, company gathering, professional association meeting, or even a volunteer get-together. There’s no reason to dread participating. And you don’t have to spend the time with dull small talk.
Networking is about building relationships. It’s not about asking for favors.
Keith Ferrazzi, in his book “Never Eat Alone” sums up the power of networking using a story about the mother of a college friend. She provided him with a simple but profound lesson about the power of generosity. “When you help others, they often help you.” That’s what networking is all about – turning these small meetings into meaningful relationships.
Here are 7 tips to get you started:
- Go to the meeting prepared. Always, always, always have your business cards handy. Keep a few in your bag or briefcase. Tuck a couple in your wallet. We’ll talk later about how to present it. Business cards provide an opportunity to keep the conversation going. When you don’t have a business card, you miss an opportunity.
- Don’t talk about the weather. During the event, ask people who are checking their phones to tell you their favorite app. It’s a great conversation starter and you might learn a few new apps to try out. You can share a few of your faves as well, so be prepared to answer the question as well.
- Make the first meeting about getting to know someone. We’ve all been to a bad networking event. Don’t use your first impression to ask for a job or close a business deal. And don’t follow-up by asking for a job or business deal. Use your time to find out something about another person.
- Always ask for someone else’s business card first. So in tip #1, you’ve got your business card ready. Don’t hesitate to tell someone, “I’ve really enjoyed our conversation. Can I get your business card?” Most of the time when you get someone else’s card, they will take yours. If they don’t ask for your card, ask them, “Can I give you my business card?” Again, most people will say yes.
- Make introductions. One way to become a great networker is by connecting and introducing people to each other. It does mean that you have master the art of learning people’s names. In the book “Essential Meeting Blueprints for Managers,” Steve Browne, executive director of human resources at LaRosa’s pizzeria and Italian restaurant, uses the rule of three to remember names.
- Try to connect on LinkedIn. LinkedIn operates the world’s largest professional network with more than 430 million members in over 200 countries. When you connect with someone on LinkedIn, you don’t have to worry about keeping their contact info current. Their current info is on the site – a very convenient way to stay in touch. So consider taking the business cards you collect and connecting on social media.
- Learn how to say “no.” While you might be an expert networker, many people are not. There will come times when others meet you and immediately ask for a favor. Find a way to steer the conversation in a different direction. In the book, “The Power of a Positive No” author William Ury talks about our tendency to say “yes” to a request and immediately regret it. The book explains how to decline a request and maintain everyone’s respect.
Networking is a fact of business life. But it doesn’t need to be a chore or a bore. With some preparation, networking can be fun and valuable.