First, be intentional
Setting your intentions, is a critical first step. Before you start handing out your business cards, decide what you’re trying to accomplish. Are you simply aiming to practice your “elevator speech” and see how it lands? Are you aiming to meet peers in your industry? Are you trying to find customers or potential partners? Are you looking to expand your professional network? Are you simply fulfilling your boss’ request to attend an event in his stead? By knowing what you’re looking to get out of the networking event you’re attending, you can set a strategy tailored to that goal. Networking for networking’s sake can be a huge waste of time, so be sure to know what you’re hoping to get from your networking exchanges (even if it’s just more practice meeting new people).
Then, focus on quality, not quantity
It’s unrealistic to expect to meet more than a few interesting people at a party or reception. Even one solid connection is a big win – especially when you’re meeting people outside of your industry. This is not speed-dating. Start with casual exchanges, and have longer conversations with the people whose interests, experiences, and needs complement yours.
Next, find and respond to needs you can meet
If your new friend complains about struggling to find office space, be sure to connect them with the office broker you know. If they mention a workplace hassle, be sure to recommend the book you read on the subject that changed your approach. If they mentioned wanting to meet someone in the edtech space and you know someone great, introduce them. Listen for needs you’re uniquely positioned to help with, and help – if you feel like the potential relationship might be worth building.
Finally, have flawless follow-up
There is one thing that separates networking novices from rising stars: the quality of their follow up. Novices cast a wide net, but fail at follow through. They get business cards, but don’t log them. They don’t keep the promises they made in the initial networking meeting – to make connections, send on articles, etc. Networking whizzes ace the follow-up phase by setting reminders and following up on commitments as quickly as possible. By getting things done right away and keeping their promises, master networkers demonstrate two of the rarest qualities you’ll find in strangers: trustworthiness and generosity.
Networking is like exercising a muscle – the more focused practice you have, the stronger you will be. Don’t worry about how weak a networker you feel like you are today. If you apply these strategies, you will improve.
What are your best strategies for improving as a networker? What strategies HAVEN’T worked for you?
Featured photography by Leah Beilhart