What is successful networking?
Whatever we think of networking, being able to do it easily and well is surely a means of empowering ourselves. So what does great networking involve?
As a process, we found it defined as, “Two or more devices or people that can communicate with each other and share resources.”
The word ‘share’ is especially interesting here, as apparently to be a successful networker is much more than being a smooth talking opportunist. To be a great networker, what you say or do should be memorable for the right reasons.
In a business situations, this means knowing what is relevant and useful to all parties. When you are clear about your own goals you then need to appreciate what is going on in their world - and how what you have to say or to offer might be of interest to them too.
Think about their 'stuff' too
Whether you're 'networking' to be generally sociable or because you have a more strategic mission in mind, never forget to think about the situation from their perspective. Find out what makes them tick.
If you are asking for some sort of favour, at least consider what's likely to be in it for them. If it’s appropriate, you might even ask them how they feel about the request and if you’re being realistic or potentially asking for too much.
Be sure to make it easy for them to help you and be specific about what it is that you would like to happen next. While it may not always be necessary to offer some sort of tit for tat trade off, the gesture of offering something in return is likely to be appreciated.
Obviously, when you consider things from other people's perspective you're far more likely to make genuine connections - as opposed to going through some strange superficial ritual that may or may not do your reputation any favours.
Display your interest in them
In the first place, turn up your curiosity. Tuned in to what they may have to gain from talking or listening to you, you are more likely to discover links between you - which will help inform your next steps naturally.
In fact, when you stop worrying about what you need to say next and listen to what they have to say conversation is far more likely to flow.
Use open questions to get things started and you'll be away. Breaking the ice also includes finding common ground, offering appropriate personal disclosure or mentioning things you know about them or their business - providing they are appropriate and already in the public domain!
Take the pressure off yourself to perform
If you don't see yourself as naturally gregarious, putting the focus on the other person also lets you off the hook. Often, turning up your awareness of them can help take your self-consciousness out of the equation. In any case, when you feel under less pressure to 'perform' it can be a far more comfortable and enjoyable experience all round.
Be your personal professional self
Aside from the fact that few of us enjoy talking to self-serving chancers or performing seals, it is a relief to know that being your authentic self is actually a good idea.
To correct that statement - it's a good idea to be your authentic self and your professional self. While you want to be as relaxed as you can be, clearly you also want to turn up or down those aspects of yourself that will help you to make the strongest connections.
Know your patterns
Certainly, when you know what your patterns are you can keep an eye out for if they're working or not.
For example, if you’re somebody who is good at building rapport and expressing your enthusiasm for particular business ideas and the other person seems slightly aloof, it may be that getting into more business related talk faster would create more comfortable territory. Turn down the so-called small talk in this situation and show your awareness of what is going on in your industry.
Being an attentive listener means you're most likely to read the signs whether they are with you or not. There is also the issue of perceived status to consider – and a subject we debate elsewhere. Suffice to say that how you approach people matters too – an apologetic or else brash interruption is obviously not a great way to get things off to a great start.
Reframe the idea
And if you're someone who really doesn't like the sound of professional networking events, you could choose to frame the way you think about them.
Few of us would describe our daily informal conversations as networking and yet they meet the dictionary's definition. While the formal variety, touted as professional networking ‘opportunities’ and revolving around greetings, handshakes and exchanging business cards can be the most dreaded affairs, they really don’t have to be.
Try to see regular networking in all its forms as useful. Or, at the very least, part and parcel of professional life, A chance to uncover opportunities or avoid potential landmines, to benefit from the ideas and experience of others and to achieve your business objectives.
Organised to promote exchanges of information, ideas, and support, formal professional networking events can help you stay informed and up to speed on what is going on in your business. As opportunities to expand your professional network and spheres of influence, you may meet people who could be of help to you all the time. Even more radically, you can be of help to them.
Our advice is to take networking as seriously as you would other aspects of your professional lives. Networking offers you opportunities you might not otherwise find. It’s how the world turns.
Practise making new friends or acquaintances and building professional contacts within your company or industry. Taking time to maintain your relationships with colleagues, peers or potential clients is almost always time well spent.
Why not start by recapping on where you're already networking successfully?