Networking is the most important tool for intelligence gathering. Meeting people, asking them to tell you their stories and active listening is essential. Good conversations skills are learned and like everything else need to be practiced.
Throughout my career, I have met many people. I will never forget a young sales executive who went to a networking event and stood against the wall like a wallflower. We can all relate, at one time or another we have all been the wallflower. Since I had previously met this sales executive I approached her and took her to a table of other people I knew and when there was a pause in the conversation I introduced them one by one. Entering a room full of strangers can be intimidating, whether it is at a Chamber Business After Hours, a work-related conference of some other networking event.
Networking, relationship building, intelligence gathering is all the same thing; it is talking to others and building relationships that will benefit both parties in personal and professional lives.
The purpose of networking is to exchange something of value, think of it as trading. I get something and you get something from the relationship. You trade information, services, and contacts. For example, I tell people the greatest value of the Chamber is that we “Connect people and businesses together”. The Chamber of Commerce is able to give referrals to businesses that have the services you need.
Here a few tips for successful networking:
- Share your talents not your title.
People are not impressed by titles these days, when you meet new people you want to share your talents. The best conversation starter is “What’s new?” and then tell a success story. Share a project you are working on or just finished, highlighting your talents and capabilities. Keep it Short.
Recently I was facilitating a leadership session and one of the participants said that I was a talented liaison. A liaison is a person who communicates between two organizations to communicate and achieve the best utilization of resources for both parties. So for me sharing a talent would be being a talented liaison, digital marketing is another talent or even business writer with these blog posts. For a recent success story, I could say that the Jerome Chamber just celebrated its 100th anniversary at the annual banquet and we had double the attendance than any other event in its history.
Confidence in your abilities makes it easier to talk to others. Knowing and believing in yourself, your talents, and what you have to offer. It is critical that you are an active listener; you want them to remember you just as much as you want to remember details about them.
We have all felt like the wallflower when it comes to networking. One of the most beautiful sights is the fields of sunflowers. As they grow and mature, the large yellow heads become so heavy you wonder how they can hold them up. The sunflower head follows the sun throughout the day. They rotate to always be facing the sun. Like the sunflower, we need to have the confidence to walk into a room and start a conversation with someone you don’t know.
- Do not interrupt.
There are times when our enthusiasm gets the best of us and we want to jump in and interrupt people before they are finished speaking. Be very careful about this. Allow the person to finish before you start speaking and sharing.
- Do not just hand out business cards
Find a connection and a reason to exchange information before you exchange business cards. Ask open-ended questions to get the other person talking and listen. How many times have you received business cards from a large event and as you look at the numerous cards the next workday you don’t remember some of the people you met? We have all done it. When we are at a large conference, many people capitalize on trying to meet as many people as they can. Making connections with people is more impactful, you want to be remembered and they want you to remember them so be sure to take the time to find a mutual connection. This means interest or shared experience. Maybe you have traveled to a similar place, or have a similar hobby. In your conversation, they might have shared a story that is memorable to you. The bottom line without making a connection, you will not remember the person.
- Cross-sell your contacts.
As you listen to their needs, offer a solution. Refer your contacts to your other contacts, and get referrals in return. People need to know the value in it for them. You need to give them the reason they want to have a relationship and do business with you.
- Get visible.
Be visible often. Attend Business After Hours, Chamber Events, Rotary, or other service organizations. (Membership dues are a tax write-off). The more involved you get with the community enhances your credibility.
- Devise a system that works for you to track and follow up with the contact you have made.
Networking is not only about meeting people but it is about both parties benefiting from the relationship. As you listen to what the other person is seeking, offer a solution. Give MORE of yourself, and take every opportunity to contribute to the success of others.
By Cheryl Viola, Executive Director, MBA
Baber, A., & Waymon, L. (2007). Make your contacts count: Networking know-how for business and career success. AMACOM.
Morgan, A., Lynch, C., & Lynch, S. (2017). Spark: How to lead yourself and others to greater success.