14 December 2016
Networking is the art and science of building professional relationships, but few of us are naturals at it.
Everyone struggles at some point with certain aspects of networking. For many, the toughest part is striking up conversations with strangers. Others are good with introductions but struggle to maintain the relationship over the longer term.
Here are some excellent reasons to network, and some tips on how you can navigate through the rough waters of networking to transform your efforts into real connections.
1. Networking is about meaningful connections
One of the best ways to make a strong first impression is to focus on listening rather than talking about yourself. Practice empathetic listening – the art of reading and understanding the speaker. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and listen with the goal of learning something new about them, and build on that conversation.
A good way to do that is to observe a speaker’s emotions behind their words, and convey that to them. For example, you can say “it sounds like that was an interesting challenge, can you tell me more?” You’re more likely to be remembered by people you make a connection with.
If you have trouble remembering people’s names, a great cheat is to repeat their name right after they’ve introduced themselves. By saying it aloud, you make a mental reminder of who you’ve just met.
2. Networking can plug you into your industry.
Networking is a great way to learn about your industry, so the earlier you start, the better.
Over time, you’ll hope to have a little black book with contacts who will be able to give you all sorts of help in the pursuit of your goals. Be it vendors and suppliers you’ve worked with on previous projects, or people you’ve met at events that you can ask to help you get things done.
With these contacts come industry intelligence – and information is king. It can provide inspiration to spark a great idea and help you raise your standards to be as good as – or better than your peers.
3. Networking is a good practice.
“If done right, meeting more people leads to more business and career opportunities, which leads to meeting more people and more business, and so on,” says networking guru, Will Kintish. You never know what doors are going to open in the future, so it’s worth operating as if that next useful contact is around the corner.
If you have a hard time starting conversations, plan some ice-breakers ahead of time. Do a little desktop research and find out who will be at an event by looking them up on Google or LinkedIn, then come up with a few open-ended questions to keep the chats going. Food and travel always make brilliant banter.
4. Networking can build long-term relationships
I was fortunate enough to meet Paul McMillan at a Communications Council Speed Mentoring session a few weeks ago. One piece of advice he advocated was “It’s all about building and maintaining long-lasting relationships.”
Networking is all about meeting people, but how you maintain your connections is a whole other ball game.
A simple and quick way to maintain your relationships is to take 20 minutes out of your day to reconnect with them. Catch up with them via LinkedIn – it’s as easy as Liking their status or congratulating them on a work anniversary. Find out what’s happening with your connections on Twitter and even tweet them. Inviting them to events also works wonders!
“Networking is one of the most critical things you can do to further yourself personally and professionally,” said Edelman Australia’s Talent Director, Lynnette Edmonds.
It raises your profile in the industry. It provides intel, and we all know how important that is. One of the most fruitful aspects of industry intel through networking is new business, the lifeline of every organisation.”
So keep these tips in mind and start meeting as many people as you can. You’ll be a networking guru in no time.
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