Updated: May 27, 2020
Author: Michael Scaletti
Whether you work for a small business, a startup, a multinational corporation, are a contractor, or own your own business, one thing remains consistent. It’s all about who you know. Or maybe, more accurately, who you meet. According to multiple, peer-reviewed studies, simply being in an open network instead of a closed one is the best predictor of career success. This means meeting new people and straying outside your social comfort zone. And this means you have to be able to introduce yourself successfully.
It is tough sometimes to think of other human beings also as assets, but in order to be successful you have to do so. That doesn’t mean that networking is an inherently selfish act. In fact, GOOD networking is definitely not. You’re building a nurturing, mutually beneficial relationship in which you both become assets within the other person’s network. Turning strangers into assets for your career or your business, making them a constructive part of your network, starts with open ended questions and sharing stories that expose shared values, a common vision of the future, and skills that complement each other.
Approaching a group or individual can be intimidating, as can striking up a conversation with a stranger. One way to make it consistently and significantly easier is to maintain a list of conversation starters that you always have available to you. If you’re going to a networking event, read up on industry news and trends before you get there so that you are able to seamlessly engage in any relevant conversation. Focus on the location that you’re in. Is it particularly hot or cold? Is there good food or drink available to you? Are there any unusual or remarkable sights you can comment on? Another easy way to strike up a conversation is to pay attention to the person you are approaching’s attire. Are they repping a sports team or something else you could use to start a conversation? If someone is wearing a godzilla t-shirt, you can always start a conversation with the statement #MothraDidNothingWrong (I did this once).
It’s worth remembering that talking about themselves makes people generally feel good. And if you want people to like you, which I assume you do if you’re trying to add them to your network, letting them talk about themselves, or even helping them to do so, is a great way to go about it. Ask questions that allow them to tell you stories. Make it clear that you are interested in hearing about their experiences. Share your own experiences that reinforce the way that they perceive the world while getting them to open up even further. You can also use body language, like the “head tilt” or nodding, to make them feel heard and to express your interest in what they are saying.
Many people forget that one of the most important aspects of networking is following up. Meeting people and building connections is crucial, without doubt, but those connections will only last as long as you maintain them. If you feel you’ve made a valuable connection, check in within 24 hours after meeting the person. Let them know you valued their company and the conversation you shared. And don’t stop there. Check in periodically and invite them into your own networks so that they become integrated. It is likely that they will return the favor if you do so. Remember that every connection you make is a bridge to many more connections.
What are your tips and tricks for networking successfully? I’d love to hear about them!