Every once in a while, I’ll suggest to a client that they should work on developing a better network. I observe as some of them clench their teeth at the suggestion. I can almost hear their synapses firing off and the logic that ensues; networking is predatory at worst, surface level conversation at best.
Networking does not have to be the dry business practice that it is perceived to be. There is a lot of outdated advice circling the internet on how to become better at networking. When was the last time you remembered anyone for their excellent handshake or that solid 10 second pitch that knocked your socks off? It’s not likely that you remember them for either. What you will never forget, however, is how they made you feel. You’re likely to remember the person that seemed genuine, engaging and loads of fun to be around. In this digital landscape, where companies are consulting with social media influencers to connect with consumers in a more intimate way, it is important to understand connection and how it is evolving.
Here is the bottom line, you must forge connection for career advancement. Meeting people is a crucial part of growing your business or career, but it doesn’t have to be a robotic process. In fact, approaching networking in the traditional sense is ineffective because now more than ever, people crave genuine connection. The key to growing a powerful network, is to make new friends, people that you like and want to hang out with, rather than new business contacts.
Approach people at a networking event like you would approach a friend. Don’t jump in and ask them what they do for a living first, connect with them on an interest instead. Comment on something that you find interesting about them. Listen in on what they are telling someone else and pick up on conversation pieces from that interaction. Become curious about the people that you meet, and they will likely become curious about you.
Be yourself, not your resume. You don't need to talk about yourself like you are on a mission to earn someone's respect. People will be more impressed with the energy that you exude than the accomplishments that you list. Allow your powerful and relaxed presence to do most of the speaking and put a rest on divulging your entire resume. This does not mean that you shouldn't talk about yourself. Instead, share your accomplishments in a way that relates to the context of the conversation and not as a means to impress. You want people to know you for what you do, but you also want them to remember you for the interesting person that you are.
Your network has a network. Many people approach networking like they are running a marathon. I cannot tell you how many times I have observed as people lose interest midway into a conversation because they suddenly realize that there isn’t anything in it for them and they take off to work the remainder of the room. Rather than focusing on the benefits that you may garner from your networking interactions, focus instead on the kinds of people that you would like to meet and how their interests may align with yours. You'll have a much stronger chance at opening the door on a business opportunity if the people you interact with found you to be pleasant and engaging.
When you approach someone who isn't quite aligned with your business goals but seems interesting, instead of walking away to work the rest of the room, give them your undivided attention for 5 or 10 minutes. That person may not be able to help you directly but may have access to a network that can and if you find them to be pleasant, it might be a good opportunity to develop a friendship.
Invite your new contacts to fun events that you think they may enjoy. These could be talks, workshops, new exhibits, galleries, etc. Not only will you get to try out some new activities but you’ll also be able to get to know your new connections on a friendlier level. Inviting a group of your new connections out, will also give you an opportunity to meet them all at once and also act as a connector.
Send your new contacts articles and videos. A great way to develop deeper relationships with influential folks is to send them pieces of information, i. e. an article, a video, a book etc. that you think they would enjoy. It's likely that as a result, they will think of you the next time they come a cross a business opportunity or information that may benefit you.
Whenever possible, send your network business. You are more likely to develop a network that sends you business if you do the same. Many people want to reap benefits from their network but provide nothing in return. You must give to receive. A common trap people fall into is the idea that if they give they will receive right away. That is not necessarily true. You may send someone business who may not have any referrals for you at that moment but may have them later down the line.
Be generous with your praise. Reach out to the people in your network and praise them. No matter how influential or successful, all people need encouragement. If something they created affected your life positively, tell them. Leave them a review, say something nice about them, write a testimonial, etc. You never know if they will consider including you in their network of VIP’s or return the favor by taking a look at your work.
Check in on people. Life gets busy and sometimes we tend to disconnect. Once a month, make time to check in on folks. Drop them a line via email or call them. Ask them about what is going on in their life and make it a point to listen. That "no strings attached" level of care, is appreciated by most and reciprocated when the time is right.
Friends encourage and look out for one another. They are invested in your growth. What better army of people to go to bat for you when you need them than your friends? Remember that connection is all about the feeling you inspire in another and vice versa. If you make it your mission to be friendly and curious at your next networking event you'll walk away with an invaluable asset, a friend that can also open new opportunities for you to win.