In the days before the world of the Internet and online marketing, the only real, reliable way to meet new sales prospects and build meaningful connections in the professional world was to go out and network with others. Today, this type of in-person networking seems old-fashioned, even though social media networking on sites like LinkedIn has served as a soft replacement for this approach to meeting new people–for those who pursue the strategy at all.
But even in today’s world of instant information and global connectivity, networking is an important–and effective–way to meet new people in the professional world, and the modern masters of the art have a few secrets to getting it done right:
- They use both in-person and social networks. Some people will argue that in-person networking is inherently superior to social media networking, but the reality is that social media networking has some serious advantages too. In-person networking gives you more opportunities to meet people in your community, make a better first impression, forge deeper connections, and engage in a group environment, while social media networking gives you a less formal setting, accessibility anywhere, and access to a wider net of people. True networking masters don’t prefer one over the other–they use both to maximize their potential results.
- They don’t repeat themselves much. There are dozens of regular networking events in practically every major city in the country. It’s not hard to find a weekly or monthly meeting where professionals gather for drinks or conversation. The problem is, these regular events tend to attract regular people; while this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if you’re trying to build your network, you can’t just keep talking to the same people over and over. Networkers who excel go out of their way to find new events, trying to avoid repeating the same event or venue too many times.
- They have a fantastic opening line for everything. Your opening line in networking is one of the most important parts of your exchange; not only does it usually form a person’s first impression of you, it also sets the stage for the conversation to come. Simple openers, like “hi, my name is _____,” or small-talk openers, like, “this is a great event, isn’t it?” are effective at opening the door to a conversation, but they don’t stand out, and they aren’t particularly strong. Successful networkers dig a little deeper with their opening lines, customizing them for the specific individual they’re talking to, and keeping them both unique and natural at all times. Opening lines should also naturally lead into a thread of conversation.
- They meet everyone, everywhere. Master networkers don’t limit themselves to specific “networking” events or social media “networks.” To them, networking is something that happens all the time–and it’s so ingrained in their lives that they don’t have to think about it as a separate designated strategy anymore. They’re open to meeting people everywhere–at different events, for sure, and online, but also as strangers on the street, or random passersby. They don’t pinpoint people to meet, either; they’re up for a conversation with just about anyone. Certainly,some personality types will find this easier than others, but it can be conquered with a “fake it ’til you make it” strategy.
- They make themselves memorable. It’s not enough to engage in a conversation for a few minutes if you want to make a lasting impression; after all, you’re usually networking with people who network on a regular basis. You have to find a way to make yourself stand out from the crowd, and exceptional networkers know how to do this well. They have something unique to offer, like a unique value proposition for their own personal brands, and they go beyond the basic small talk to cement their reputation.
- They keep in touch. Networking doesn’t end at the networking event. You don’t need to follow up with everyone–as not everyone will be a lasting value to you in any capacity–but for the select few you hit it off with for any reason, make it a point to stay in touch. Send them an email, or call them a few days after the event and try to get coffee or lunch together within the next few weeks.
- They genuinely listen. This is a crucial point, and one that can’t be overlooked. When networking with others, too many people fixate on the idea of talking–whether that’s giving a pitch, making small talk, or leading a discussion. Instead,it’s better to fixate on listening. Stop talking so much, and let other people do the talking. You stand to learn a lot more about whatever subject you’re discussing, and you’ll make a better impression with the people you talk to, as well; they’ll feel like you’re a better conversationalist, and they’ll think of you in a more positive light afterward. Everyone in the world knows something better than you do–but you can’t learn anything if you’re always talking.
Whether you’re in it to find new prospects, recruit new employees, expand your professional network, or just get to know some people a little better, I highly recommend integrating these strategies into your networking approach. You’ll meet more people, establish more meaningful connections, and ultimately get closer to your goals–no matter what those goals are.