Networking doesn’t come easily for everyone. Here are a few tips to get you started.
1. Prepare & Practice. You won’t be great at networking if you never do it. Set a goal. Do you want to meet one new person or 50? Your approach will depend on your goal — but be sure you are able to make these into meaningful connections. Introduce yourself to someone new in the elevator or the grocery store. Or find events to attend related to your occupation. The more your step out of your comfort zone and engage in a conversation with a stranger, the easier it will be.
2. Have a Purpose. Why are you seeking more connections? Are you on the hunt for a job? Are you in sales and looking for leads? Are you just looking to expand your network and meet new people? There isn’t a right or wrong purpose, as long as you know what yours is — and you come off as genuine. Being ready to answer questions like “What do you do,” “Tell me about yourself,” or “Why are you attending XYZ event?” is essential. If you have an effective elevator pitch that you’ve practiced, you should be able to modify it to fit an initial question. Or, use it to kick off a conversation!
3. Be Aware of Your Presence. Or, in other words, your personal brand. How do you want people to think of you? If you spend a little time in advance thinking about how you want to portray yourself, odds are you’ll be closer to that mark than if you just wing it. Consider your attire, verbal and body language, and online presence all part of your brand. Ask five close contacts (not your mom) for three words that they think define you well. Do you like the results? Likely, you’ll agree with some and not others. You might even discover a skill or trait you hadn’t appreciated before.
4. Google Yourself. Have you ever done a search of your own name? It can be really interesting what you find. If you want to be found in Google search results (or circumvent what is already there), make sure you have an up-to-date LinkedIn profile. Same goes for Facebook, but be very aware of what you share publicly and privately on this platform. Other ways to appear in search results include writing blogs or articles, being listed on your company website, volunteering, or leaving reviews on Google or Facebook. In addition to this being part of your personal brand, someone you meet might try to find your contact information via this popular, all-knowing tool. It’s good for you to be aware of what they will or won’t find, too.
5. Listen & Ask Questions. If you spend too much time in conversations talking and not listening, you’ll miss out on what the other person knows. It’s important, especially for extroverts, to be conscious of the amount of time spent talking and the time spent listening. Make sure you inquire about the other person and practice retaining the information. After you meet someone new, take a few moments to jot down some notes (cell phones are great for this). Your memory can be faulty, so the sooner the better. Your purpose for networking will probably provide you with some questions. If not, start with some basic what questions such as, “What do you do,” “What are your hobbies,” “What brought you here,” and so forth. Organic conversation should ensue once you find a common interest.
We see plenty of people that we don’t know everyday. Meet one of them and see what you can learn! Just remember to be yourself and to follow through on anything you said you’d do. Sending a thank you or a followup email to someone you met will leave a lasting impression.