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Networking 101: Learning to Communicate Effectively

Networking = Conversation

Networking is simply the exchange of information and ideas among people with a common profession or special interest, usually in an informal setting.

Many overthink and become overly anxious when they hear the word – networking. It really is just an opportunity to engage in conversation and potentially find a common interest/opportunity to engage in future conversations.

It is evident in the current professional environment that networking is an important tool for advancement and success, but for the inexperienced, it is still one of the most intimidating experiences in a professional career. When you are attending a networking event, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Keep Rational Expectations

The movies will show business professionals “working the room” with an almost arrogant level of confidence. Not only is this unrealistic, but trying to meet everyone in the room is not a productive way to network in a large environment. Don’t put pressure on yourself to connect with 20-30 people in a single event; one quality conversation is much more beneficial than 50 superficial ones.

Plan Some Icebreakers Ahead of Time

Do your homework before you attend an event. If you can, find out who will be at the event and look them up on Facebook or LinkedIn. Think of topics and talking points based on things that nearly everyone has in common, like travel or food. These may seem superficial at first but are better icebreakers than constant business talk – especially among new contacts.

Make Introductions

It is intimidating to introduce yourself to someone new in a professional atmosphere. Try and put yourself in a position to be introduced by another professional colleague whenever possible. Having another professional make your introduction puts you in a better light than walking up and introducing yourself. Virtual introductions via email are also a great way to initiate conversations with key contacts to help you gain traction within the industry or connect you to a key contact for future shared passions.

Practice Empathetic Listening & Personal Stories

It may not seem like it, but these two skills go hand in hand. They also take different skill sets to master; introverts excel in listening situations while extroverts are best at making themselves stick out from the crowd. Be interested and interesting. Knowing where you fall in this category is crucial in preparing yourself accordingly. Too much of either can seem ingenuous when carrying on a conversation with someone new.

When a new potential contact is speaking, put yourself in their shoes and listen attentively. When you ask questions, listen closely to understand and respond with the intent to establish a connection. When given the opportunity, share an interesting, short, and relevant story about yourself to not only establish a connection but to make yourself memorable in the eyes of your connection. If you receive a business card, take notes on your interactions on the back about the person you met. This will make your follow-up more personal and memorable.

Put In The Time

Staying in contact with your new connections is a crucial point in networking. As entrepreneur and Fortune magazine’s best networker in Silicon Valley in 2011, Adam Rifkin says, “Most people try to escalate relationships too quickly. Trust is built over time.” Once you have made a connection with someone, start slowly to build a lasting professional relationship.

Follow-ups are important, whether it be via email, text, phone calls, or small favors. If you don’t hear back from a follow-up, try again once or twice, but don’t bombard your contact. Rifkin implements something called five-minute favors; something selfless done for another person that takes under five minutes, such as an introduction, a reference, feedback, or interaction on social media.

Think about your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to networking and make a list of the areas where you need to improve. Taking a few of these tips to heart will develop your networking skills and make you more confident at your next event.

So, dust off your business cards, iron your best blazer and get yourself excited about networking. It doesn’t have to be a frightening experience.

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Volunteering is also a great way to network, so make sure to get involved with any opportunities that may come your way!