So, you count yourself as a great communicator, have a brimming contacts book and can work your way around a room. Congratulations – you’re on your way to becoming an effective networker. But as with all skills, you should never be complacent and instead aim to improve them through continuous learning, better preparation and periodic analysis.
Here are my five top tips to help you improve your networking game:
Are you aware of who is attending your next networking event? If not, can you request a guest list from the organiser? If you know who is likely to be present, you can act a lot more strategic in your approach by viewing their profiles on LinkedIn or by contacting your shared connections (who can inform you of any common interests you may have). By doing a little homework beforehand you can attempt to find commonalities, which will help make the networking interactions more comfortable. Having pre-prepared topics of conversation that may be of interest to the attendees will also help you feel more confident.
Once you’ve introduced yourself and are in conversation, are you paying attention to your body language and that of the other person? Present yourself positively by actively listening and responding. Show your interest by smiling, maintaining eye contact, nodding and asking questions. Give that person your full attention.
Don’t get distracted by what else may be happening in the room or over the person’s shoulder. Likewise, be mindful of how they’re responding to you. Look for visual cues that they are engaged and interested. Are they reacting encouragingly to your body language? If not then maybe the topic isn’t right for this person or it makes them feel uncomfortable. Try changing the conversation to see if you can gain a more positive response. As a rule of thumb, try not to start or engage in a conversation that is based on gossip, judgment or negativity.
Networking events are for like-minded people to meet, recognise or act upon opportunities for mutual development and growth. With that in mind, commit to making connections with attendees; however, don’t turn up at an event armed with a full box of business cards that you intend to simply empty around the room. Look to have meaningful conversations and make connections of value.
It’s also important not to corner anyone or hold them in conversation for any longer than seems natural and comfortable. Make full use of your time and allow them to do the same – but also judging the appropriate point to thank them for their conversation, swap contact details and then moving on to engage with other attendees.
We all know the importance of following up with connections we’ve made following an event. Ensuring that the people we’ve met have our contacts details is vital; in the spirit of networking, if we are looking to be of benefit to others, they need to be able to contact us as and when needed.
However, what is often forgotten about is how to maintain your connections or network. Social media is great for sharing useful tips, resources and seeing what people are up to. It also allows you to see what is important to your connections and even get informed about birthdays, promotions, changes of career etc. Use this information to stay in touch. Recognise others for their achievements, comment on articles shared, give recommendations or endorsements, join shared online groups and wish them happy birthday! By being present and engaged online, we keep our connections alive and make others aware of who we are, what we’re doing and how to contact us.
If we want to perform better and look to continually improve, self-assessment following a networking event and periodically through the year is a great help. Review your successes and adopt a growth mindset, where there are no failures – just opportunities to improve.
Keep it simple. Ask yourself questions like: what could I have done better? What would I do differently? What has worked well? Was I well prepared? Have there been any positive responses from new connections? Do I need more practise or support?
Remember, networking is all about learning and adding value. Commit to developing your skillset, don’t be afraid to request feedback and most importantly have fun and enjoy it!