Ask any leader about the keys to business success, and ‘relationships’ will likely be among his or her top responses. Business gets done through people. Collaboration is king. And partnerships can lead to profits.
But strong, productive relationships don’t magically appear. They are nurtured and cultivated over time. And they had to begin somewhere… frequently through networking.
I envy others for whom networking comes so naturally – the ones who are gregarious, witty, and confident in any group or setting. They make it look easy. But for many of us, networking is an effort – and an uncomfortable one at that.
Effort or not, networking is a core competency and requirement for business success. So at your next business gathering, rather than grabbing a drink and finding a corner, try one of these strategies for getting in touch with your inner schmoozer (or at least reducing the nausea associated with networking).
- Set a goal or focus for yourself. Networking is like any other business activity. Go into it with a goal and you’re more likely to accomplish something productive. Set a numeric goal (number of new people to meet), an informational goal (specific data you wish to collect), or a personal goal (to become more comfortable). Whatever it is, the goal can keep you focused throughout the event.
- Decide in advance who you want to meet and do your homework. Sometimes you’ll know who’ll be at an event. When that happens, take the time to learn a little about those whom you’d like to meet. There’s little that is more flattering than the knowledge that someone cared enough to do some research; your efforts will be rewarded with an instant sense of comfort and connection. It also allows you to take the conversation to deeper, more interesting places when you can skip over some of the basics.
- Arrive early. Being fashionably late doesn’t make you more mysterious; it makes you miss the opportunity to become comfortable in the space. You also miss the easy meeting time when there are fewer people and before those ‘hard to break into’ groups begin to form.
- Smile. This is a powerful and often overlooked networking tool. It communicates an interest in connecting and makes you more approachable. It sets others at ease; it also sets you at ease. Smiling (even artificially) sends a message to the brain causing the body to release hormones that make us happy. And a happy vibe certainly takes the edge off networking. So, smile liberally.
- Be armed with engaging questions. Let’s face it… people love to talk about themselves. In fact, the more they talk about themselves, the more fascinating they’ll find you. So focus squarely on others by having a list of open-ended questions at the ready. A solid starter list might include:
- What brought you here?
- What do you typically tell people when they ask you what you do?
- What really excites you about your work?
- How did you get involved in your current business?
- What have you learned from your customers recently?
- What do you want to achieve next?
- Don’t rush out. While it’s natural to want to minimize the time you spend doing something uncomfortable, resist the temptation to leave early. Take your time. Stick around. Even help the host clean up. You might feel more at ease as the numbers dwindle. And the act of just doing something as simple as putting chairs away together can facilitate conversation and connection.
What about you? How comfortable are you in networking settings? What do you do to make networking work for you?
Image: www.dreamstime.com and Liz Price
Thanks for the useful tips. I am one of those who have to put a lot of effort into networking. Will definitely use some of these at the next event.
Networking requires a lot of energy for me as well. Over the years I’ve noticed that the anticipation is more anxiety-producing than the actual event. As a result, I try not to over-think it and trust that I’ll find my groove once I arrive. Best of luck to you!
Networking can be great fun. Look at it like twitter-it’s a chance to mingle, get to know new people, and hopefully make some lasting connections. The more you do it, the easier it gets, and before long networking will be a delight. It’s a huge part of my job and I love it. Thanks for the strategies Julie!
You’re right, Kathy. The rewards are well worth the investment of time and (for some of us) emotional energy. Given your ease and enjoyment, are there any networking strategies that you find particularly effective?