How to become an effective networker
- July 20, 2017
They say it’s not what you know, but who you know. Unfortunately who ‘they’ are has been lost in the sands of time, but the point is definitely a good one and has become no less valuable as the working world has shifted dramatically in recent years. In fact, a recent study from The Sutton Trust found that the majority of people in this country believed that who you know is the most important factor in achieving career success. Despite the influx of vast amounts of technology that have infiltrated almost every area of our lives, nothing can top a strong personal or professional relationship that has been developed through trust and shared mutual interests. But how do you become an effective networker?
Unfortunately, not all of us are comfortable networking with total strangers. While many readers will be the type happy to sidle up to someone unfamiliar at a conference or seminar, many would prefer to stay in their comfort zone and leave the relationship-building to the salespeople. However, there are ways to get around the fear and our tips should give you an insight on how to become an effective networker.
Change your mind-set
Ultimately the goal of networking is to help other people and when you’re forming relationships who are you more likely to remember; the person that spoke about themselves for 10 minutes without taking a breath, or the person that proposed a useful solution to your problem? Rather than thinking about who you need to know, instead consider who you can help. This isn’t completely altruistic, by assisting someone you’re more than likely to get positive feedback from them which could spread to their wider network, making your next ice-breaking conversation considerably more straightforward. If you’ve helped someone out in the past, they’re also more likely to want to assist you by introducing you to their contacts or giving you a discount for their services, for example.
Practice your pitch – but be natural
It’s worth preparing and practicing a short 30-second ‘elevator pitch’ that covers the highlights of who you are, what you do and why you’re at the event. However, remember to remain natural and try to at least make it look like hours of practice haven’t gone into your introduction. The practice will give you confidence and that can be the key to having the belief in yourself to meet new people.
The room full of 500 other people suddenly looks a lot less daunting if you’ve set yourself a target of meeting just five of them. If you’ve had time to meet every single person at an event then it suggests you haven’t been spreading your time effectively or have been meeting a lot of people who wouldn’t be of use to you, or both. Try to get hold of the attendees list ahead of the event and set yourself a realistic target of key stakeholders that you want to meet.
Don’t forget names!
An obvious one. Nothing puts John off quite like being called James and it’s essentially just a sign that you’re not listening properly. If you do forget then politely ask the person again, it’s much better than the alternative of either waiting for someone else to join the group or scrabbling around to try and remember their name.
Smile, make eye contact and be positive
Okay, this tip is three in one but hear us out. This should be a given really. People are much more approachable when they’re smiling, it’s an evolutionary response to grow closer to someone who smiles, and the same applies with eye contact. It’s hard to trust someone whose eyes are darting around the room and you probably wouldn’t want to be stuck with an individual who’s overly negative and intent on seeing the worst in everything. Don’t be that person and you’ll find that people will probably approach you, which is half the battle.
It was Epictetus, the Greek philosopher who, in AD 55, said that “You were born with two ears and one mouth for a reason.” Nearly 2000 years later that principle still applies and, as I’m sure you’ll all be only too aware, there’s not many things more annoying than someone who is intent on talking at you and not listening to anything you say in return. This will only turn people off, no decision maker worth their salt will invest in a one-way talking machine and it’s highly advisable to avoid becoming one of these people by actually listening to what people are saying.
Along similar lines, asking a few questions not only shows that you’ve actually been listening, but you’ll find it’s also likely to allow you to build stronger relationships quicker. It’s important to find common ground with whoever you’re engaging with, whether that’s their son’s nativity play or how their football team is getting on. Doing so will allow you to build bonds at a faster pace than you would be keeping quiet.
Networking doesn’t have to be painful and, done correctly, it can hugely increase your employability and earning potential so it’s something worth putting that extra bit of effort into. You never know, the next person you engage with at a conference or seminar could be the key to finding you a high-potential job, for example, so it’s worth moving away from that wall and start engaging with others. After all, the chances are they’re equally as nervous as you are.
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