Walking into a room full of people you barely know can be extremely daunting. You ask yourself, “How could I possibly stand out or be heard?” You may feel that you don’t have anything to contribute, or worse, that there is nothing you have to say that would be of value to these people. Let these two words stand out above the chatter going on in your mind – Stop It!
Put your fear aside and consider it an opportunity. The truth is, with the right strategy and focus, networking can be an opportunity to stand out among the competition. Adjust your approach using these five tips for better networking.
These are easy to apply and will help you go from discouraged and overwhelmed, to clear, focused and highly effective at building relationships.
1. Have a Plan
Having a plan is key before engaging in any networking opportunity. Plan out what you want to say. Focus on communicating your strengths and abilities and avoid discussing your shortcomings. Also, make sure you know and communicate your value proposition. Your value proposition is a clear and concise statement that sums up what you bring to the table. Worthy repeating…keep it clear and concise. If you relay this proposition to a potential contact, and they don't find it useful, they may be able to connect you with others who would.
2. Networking is a Two Way Street
A large majority of people approach networking only seeking out people who can do something for them. Networking also involves listening and helping others not just trying to achieve your own goals. Be known as someone who is willing to give and be useful with no ulterior motives. Do not keep track of favors. There is no room for that in successful networking. In the end, successful networkers do more for others than they for themselves. Find joy in helping others succeed!
3. Treat All People With Respect
This one might be a no brainer, but it is worth mentioning. When entering a large room full of people with whom you want to network, refuse the urge to search out titles. Networking happens when everyone in the room feels equal. This great C.S. Lewis quote sums it up thusly:
Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, What! You Too? I thought I was the only one!
Strive to discover the value of everyone. Learn about them. Genuinely listen. Hear their story. See how you can connect them to others you may know that would help achieve their goals and enrich their journey.
4. Follow Up & Follow Through
Following up and following through are instrumental in successful networking.
Everyone is busy. Don’t use that as an excuse for not following up or following through. Keep in mind basic relationship building principles and touch base with your network outside of those times you need something. After all, networking is more than tapping into other’s resources — it’s still about building relationships and all relationships fail if there is no effort to keep them up.
Tip: If you are going to an event where you know you are likely to be networking, or expected to be, schedule 20-30 minutes for the following morning to follow up with the folks you might meet at the event. This helps remove the excuse of not having time to follow up.
5. Be Authentic
Authenticity is one of the most powerful attributes of networking. In my opinion, it’s more important than your experience, education, or skills. To be authentic is to stay true to one’s self. Deviating from your true self will only expose you as desperate and disingenuous. People can sense inauthenticity and it is incredibly off-putting. It is important to show your connections exactly who you are so they can clearly understand exactly what you are offering them.
Authenticity is one of the most powerful attributes of networking…it’s more important than your experience, education, or skills.
In the end, networking does not need to cost you a lot of time, money or expertise, but rather focused effort. And if done right, the returns and benefits from networking will easily outweigh the means required.