|Created On: 27 July, 2016||Created By: Amber Travis-Ballinas, Career Coach|
*This is the fifth in a series of posts discussing the concept of networking. Ready…Set…Network! You have decided to take every opportunity to build your professional network. You understand the real goal of networking. You have conducted your research. You are prepared to network anytime, anywhere. You are ready, so…just do it! Unfortunately, this is the point where many people get stuck and never actually perform any networking activities. For many people, the act of ‘networking’ seems intimidating and difficult. Usually, this feeling is caused by a lack of confidence and knowledge about how to actually network in a way that does not make the person feel vulnerable, intimidated, or awkward. The act of networking really is easy and empowering, when you follow these guidelines:It’s OKAY to talk to strangers. If you want to build your network, you must talk to other people that you don’t already know. Talk to everyone you can, whenever you can. Of course, you do not want to seem like a psycho stalker or turn people off, so keep the conversation appropriate to the social situation and venue. · If you are at the market, make small talk with the checker or the person in line behind you. · If you are attending a networking event, greet contacts on the way in to the event, at the sign-in table, at the buffet, at the bar, and on the way out to your car. Focus on quality not quantity. Spend your time developing a few quality contacts from each networking opportunity. The goal is to make sincere connections and develop mutually beneficial relationships. · If you attend a networking event, try to make three to five new quality contacts, rather than just collecting twenty business cards. · If you are at a social gathering, stay focused on the person with whom your are conversing, look them in the eye, ask questions, and really listen to what they are saying. Politely greet those contacts that you already know.Chat politely for a few minutes, and then ask your contact to introduce you to someone that you do not know. Offer to return the favor. I introduced myself…now what? Ask open-ended questions. People like to talk about themselves, their families, their business, and their product or service. This is an opportunity to determine what you have in common and how you may offer your assistance to your contact. Listen more than you speak. Human beings have a long history of oral storytelling. We feel a strong biological connection with other human beings who listen to our stories. However, we are often more concerned about what we are going to say next, and we do not truly hear what others are saying. Listening is critical because it allows you to discover commonalities and to forge a strong bond with others. · Ask a few questions and really listen to gather as much information as possible. This leads to additional questions, more conversation, and ultimately, forms a deeper connection with the contact. Keep moving. Do not monopolize the time of others. Speak with each contact for about five to ten minutes, exchange contact information, and then politely excuse yourself. Keep your right hand free. In the USA, it is customary to greet others with a firm handshake using your right hand. So, you always want to have your right hand free. Hold your drink or plate, bag or book, or anything else you have with you in your left hand, so that you can quickly shake hands and give your new contacts your business card or other information without fumbling. Stay organized. Often, networking happens quickly. To make the most of each opportunity, you must be able to act fast. Staying organized allows you to react quickly and maintain a professional image. · Have a bag, briefcase, or organizer book containing your ‘networking toolkit’ with you at all times, so that you can easily share your contact information and have a secure place to store the information of new contacts until you can follow up. · Keep your business cards in your right jacket or pant pocket and place the business cards of contacts you meet into your left pocket. This way you will not mix them up and accidentally hand a new contact someone else’s business card. Embarrassing! Write something personal on your business card. People are more likely to remember you, the conversation you had, and much less likely to toss the card if you include a personal, hand-written comment or phone number on the card. · Take a moment to jot down your cell phone number or a note about a topic you discussed with the contact prior to handing them your card. This shows that you really were listening to them and that you want to develop the relationship further. Take notes, so you can follow up. After you have made a new contact and received their business card, take a moment to write a quick note about where you met them, something you learned about the contact, how you can help them, or how you will follow up. · Record the information directly on the card or in your ‘networking toolkit’ tracking tool. Then, when you do follow up with the contact, you will be able to remind them about where you met and what you discussed during that meeting. Always follow through. Keep your promises. When you meet a new contact, it is critical to demonstrate that you are reliable and credible. You must follow through and actually do what you said that you would do in a timely manner. This single act will set you apart from 80% of the population, because so many people talk big but do not follow through. Following through and keeping your promises will create a situation where the contact feels that they must reciprocate, and isn’t that the real goal of networking?