Networking can be intimidating, especially when it involves approaching someone we don't know and starting a conversation. Effective networking requires effort and strategy. Without the right approach, you may put in a lot of time and energy without seeing any results. However, with practice and the right strategies, anyone can learn to network effectively and see results.
I have learned that there are certain key steps that can help make the most of our networking efforts, regardless of our goals or the people we are interacting with. In this article, I will outline these stages and show you how to use them to your advantage. By following these steps, you can create strong, productive connections.
Conducting research before networking is essential for a successful conversation. It helps you identify the right people to connect with and find relevant topics to talk about. Researching ahead of time can also help reduce any nervousness you may have about networking.
To get started, look into the attendees of a networking event or conference and choose a few individuals you'd like to connect with. Research their backgrounds, roles, and interests, and use this information to plan some talking points and ways you can offer your value and assistance. Knowing your personal value and how you can help others is crucial in any networking conversation.
Once you have a good understanding of who you will be speaking with, it's important to consider your approach. Making a strong first impression is crucial in networking, but don't let this intimidate you.
One of the best ways to start a conversation is with an introduction, either through a mutual connection or by using your research to impress. If you don't have someone who can make an introduction, try using an icebreaker question to ease into the conversation. Remember, the goal is to make a connection, not to impress with a scripted pitch.
Before ending the conversation, make sure you have a way to follow up with your new connection. Exchange information, such as by sharing a digital business card, which allows your new contact to easily save your information and follow up later.
Digital business cards also allow you to include additional details, such as social media profiles and links to your website. They make it a lot easier to manage your contacts and remember important details about your conversations. This is especially helpful for those of us who struggle to remember names and faces or small details from conversations.
It can be challenging to remember all the details from a networking conversation, even if it was enjoyable and productive. To help keep your conversation top of mind for both parties, send a quick follow-up within a few days of meeting your new contact. This serves as a reminder of who you are and what you discussed, and helps to reinforce the connection.
In your follow-up, let your new contact know that you had a great time meeting them and enjoyed learning about their work or discussing the industry. This can help to further solidify your relationship.
The process of making requests, or "the ask," is often viewed as unpleasant in networking. This is so, because people often use connections without returning the favor, giving networking a bad reputation. To avoid this perception, it's important to carefully craft your ask and approach it in a genuine way.
Start by having a conversation and catching up with your connection, asking about their well-being and following up on past conversations. Once you have established a rapport, clearly state your request and be prepared for the possibility of a no. Regardless of their response, thank them for their time and consideration.
Maintaining networking connections takes time and effort. Instead of reaching out to connections solely to ask for help, try to connect with them on a regular basis, perhaps once every quarter, to catch up and check in.
Show interest in their well-being and offer your assistance too, using strong interpersonal skills to strengthen the relationship. Remember, the key to effective networking is building and maintaining genuine connections, not just using them for your own benefit.