We know that networking is key to your professional success and personal branding. But many people dread going into a room full of strangers and feeling like an outsider. Here are 4 proven tips and techniques to make networking more enjoyable and successful. When you master these key success strategies, you might actually start to enjoy networking!
- Master the Secret Art of Team Networking
One of the skills you should hone is that of Team Networking. My friend Marie is a very good graphic designer and we attend professional networking events together. When I meet someone new, I introduce them to Marie with praise. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, John. I want to introduce you to my friend, Marie. She’s the best graphic designer in town. She does all my graphic design work; and I’ve worked with her for ten years. I think you need to know each other.” Then Marie says “Oh, it’s so easy to do great work for someone like Diane. She is the most brilliant marketer I’ve ever met. She’s introduced me to the most wonderful clients. I just love working with her.”
So we each bragged about each other! I didn’t brag about myself, and Marie didn’t brag about herself, right? But we told John a great deal of favorable information about each other. In this way, I can act modest because I bring my cheering squad with me, and we both look good Plus it’s much more fun to go networking with a friend — especially if you have complementary or non-competing skills and aren’t both looking for the same job.
- Commit to the 3-Person Rule
I have a networking rule cast in stone: every time you go out to an event of any kind, you must meet and really connect with 3 people. You can’t leave until you have spoken one-on-one with 3 people, found out where they work, what they do, what their hobbies are, how long they’ve belonged to the association or have been attending their events. And you must exchange business cards. Three new people should be your mantra.
So every time you network, you don’t need to meet everybody. You just have to really meet and get to know just 3 people. It’s not overwhelming when you focus on just 3 people. At the end of the year, you will know at least 36 new people well from just one group that meets monthly. Those people will introduce you to their friends to exponentially expand your network. Then all of a sudden you will walk into a room full of friends instead of strangers.
- Follow Up Immediately After a Networking Event
At the end of any event, go home and send your 3 special new contacts a quick email before you go to bed. Don’t wait until tomorrow or you will never get around to it. It can be something simple like “It was such a pleasure to meet you tonight at the AMA social. I’d like to stay in touch. Perhaps we can connect on LinkedIn.” Immediately go to LinkedIn and send her an invitation. Then you can communicate and build on your relationship and set up that one-on-one meeting.
If you really are interested in the person or company, hand-write a thank you note with pen and paper. Handwriting a thank you note is an almost obsolete forgotten skill, but people respond to it, in part because they can’t hit “delete” to make it go away. If you have bad handwriting, type the note nicely on a good linen paper or notecard stock, sign it and send it in the mail.
The important thing is to reach out to the other person on paper, and insert or attach your business card as a tangible reminder of your meeting. This connection really is very powerful. You can say, “I enjoyed hearing about your company last night. It sounds like you have fascinating opportunities. Could we get together and have a cup of coffee next week to learn more about it? I’d love to work for a company like yours.” It is that easy.
- Networking Pitfalls to Avoid
Some topics should be avoided at networking events. You should never talk about religion or politics. And never, ever talk negatively about anybody, including nasty people that you’ve worked with before or people you hate. That’s private. Discussing it will make you look petty. Don’t ever bring negative topics or experiences into a professional social networking event, or interview for that matter. And don’t gossip or reveal secrets about a former employer, even if you left unhappily. You will be seen as being disloyal. After all, if you will tell me confidential information about your former employer, I have to assume you would probably do the same if you end up working for my company.
By Diane Huth, MA, MBA, The Accidental Career Coach