Networking Skills that Work!

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quote2I’ll be talking about networking this evening at HCC’s Institute for Corporate & Continuing Education and sharing some tips that I believe make the process fun and ultimately worth the effort.

So, I’m about as extroverted as you can get… Being an extrovert certainly makes it easy for me to talk to pretty much anyone. In fact, I love it! But, that doesn’t mean extroverts are expert networkers. It actually took me some time to master the art of listening, and it’s an ongoing process. Extroverts tend to dominate the conversation and not know when to be quiet. Introverts are quite different and tackle a whole other host of issues associated with networking.  They are not charged up by having to approach unknown people, and they tend to get quite anxious about the whole prospect of it.  Fortunately, a little planning and a few tips can go a long way to help either extroverts or introverts with this critical process.

“Ask any successful person and they will tell you that networking is a key element in moving one’s career forward. Your network is your networth. The art of developing powerful relationships can do wonders for one’s career and business.” ~Huffington Post – 5/24/14

Certainly, there’s no shortage of networking tips out there.  But, there are a few that I have found to be tried and true.

Craft an elevator pitch.

I think this is a crucial planning step because it ultimately prepares you for basic conversation about yourself without having the stress of articulating something on the spot.  Crafting an elevator pitch takes time because the goal is to be able to summarize “your story” in 30-60 seconds without sounding rehearsed or too generic.  Do a personal SWOT analysis as a way of organizing your thoughts. It’s a great introspective exercise anyway. Write, refine and rehearse until you’re comfortable and what you’ve got accurately expresses who you are and highlights your competitive advantage(s).

Plan for networking.

Whether it’s online networking or active on-site networking, determine how much time you can reasonably dedicate per month and organize your schedule accordingly.  Remember, we make time for what’s important! Resist only networking online. It’s worth it to get out there and attend some events.  Making eye contact and a personal introduction goes a long way. Get involved with a local association chapter that’s applicable to your career goals, or look for other specific networking events where people who have similar interests will all be there for the same reason.  Local Chambers of Commerce, colleges and others frequently host such events.  The Tampa Bay Business Journal even has a calendar of events that’s worth checking out. Corporate training organizations, such as ICCE, frequently host events as well.  The more you put yourself out there, the less stressful the experience becomes and the more successful you are at accomplishing your goals.

Remember: Networking is a continuous process. 

Don’t set expectations. 

I hear people talking about going to networking events and focusing on the number of people they want to connect with. Quality over quantity will win every time. Of course, I know the time you can dedicate to networking is limited so we want to maximize any resources.  But, go with the flow and refine your activities as you plan for future events.  If one doesn’t work out as planned, make the most of it while you’re there and attend a different event next time.

Arriving early or later?

There are two approaches here, and it depends on an individual’s comfort zone.  Arriving early or just as an event starts helps some people acclimate. Others feel more comfortable walking into the chaos of activity and blending into the crowd. Consider what works best for you to reduce nervousness.

Plan conversation starters in advance.

The elevator pitch certainly helps, but consider a few conversation starters.  Being prepared reduces the overall stress of the situation.  (Examples)

Smile… Smile… Smile

Smiling does more than make you look happy.  Research indicates that smiling actually releases neuropeptides that reduce stress.  Also, a study published in the journal Neuropsychologia reported that seeing a smiling face activates your orbitofrontal cortex, the region in your brain that process sensory rewards. This suggests that when you view a person smiling, you actually feel rewarded. Considering that research also indicates smiling is contagious, it’s a win-win endeavor. (Source)

Listen more than you talk. Active listening is key.

As noted, this can be challenging for extroverts who tend to dominate conversations.  But, actively listening to someone else’s story ultimately reflects better on you. Show genuine interest in people, and you’ll find they are more responsive.

Personalize your interactions.

People love to feel special. They like the sound of their own name (and it helps you remember it when you say it too), and they usually enjoy talking about their passions and such. Finding out personal details about people lights up multiple areas of the brain and helps with the retention process. You’ll stand out and also have something distinguishable to discuss during follow-up. It also usually makes the conversation more interesting anyway.

“Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, brain activation patterns were examined in response to hearing one’s own first name in contrast to hearing the names of others. There are several regions in the left hemisphere that show greater activation to one’s own name, including middle frontal cortex, middle and superior temporal cortex, and cuneus. These findings provide evidence that hearing one’s own name has unique brain functioning activation specific to one’s own name in relation to the names of others.” (Source

Plan your transitions in advance.

I see people finding their comfort zone with one or two people during an event, and I can’t help but think about all of the connections they’re missing out on.  Plan a transition strategy in advance to politely be able to move on to another person or group.  Even just being honest and saying that you’re excited to follow-up with them but want to go meet some other people works well.  Work the room and resist getting comfortable with someone you already know or have met and clicked with.  You can always arrange to have lunch or meet with them for a longer period of time later. If you’re there to network, network.

Follow-up and develop connections.

Networking isn’t finished after you’ve introduced yourself to people and exchanged contact information.  When exchanging business cards, take a moment to make a note about something personal about each person after speaking with them.  After the event, connect on LinkedIn.  And, set some time aside each week to reconnect or follow-up with people you’ve met. Use the personal information to help them remember you.

Remember: Networking is about creating relationships that are beneficial to all parties. It’s a good thing!

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