by Raleigh Mayer
“Only Connect” –E.M. Forster
Networking. Everybody’s doing it: Or should be.
Cultivating and maintaining a wide network of personal and professional contacts is a required skill for anyone active in the business world and community environment, and often the foundation for securing new clients, new business, or new careers. In fact, networking’s become such a ‘necessary evil’ that many people are offended by the very word. However, when done properly, networking, or simply meeting people, can be fun, and quite productive in terms of informational exchange as well as opportunity. The key is to offer yourself: as a resource, a referral base, or simply ally and friend, rather than going in looking to gain something at the outset. This perspective will change the dynamics in terms of how you approach others, and how you present yourself. But where and how does one begin? The answer is here and now.
Before you “go public”, even on weekends and off-hours, give some thought to your wardrobe, accessories, and overall grooming, keeping in mind that casual should not translate to sloppy.
Get in the habit of carrying business cards at all times, and always be ready with a smile, a firm and energetic handshake, and light conversation topics. Be quick to extend your hand and introduce yourself. For more formal or organized business or professional events also:
- Use your time to talk to people, rather than eat or drink. Eat beforehand.
- Develop a brief and clever (20 seconds maximum) self-introduction, not a sales pitch.
- Pronounce your name clearly, and make sure you hear the other person’s as well. If you are unsure of their name or pronunciation, ask them to repeat it right away.
- If you are holding a drink, keep it in your left hand, so you can shake hands easily.
- Speak with enthusiasm; say only positive, upbeat things about yourself and the event.
- Ask open-ended questions, and do more listening than talking.
Navigating an Event
Most of us are a little intimidated, if not plain terrified, to meet large groups of new people. But the most counter-productive approach to attending an event is to bring a friend or colleague as a ‘bodyguard’, to protect you from going it alone. By all means, attend with a friend - then separate during the event. Instead, to minimize anxiety and maximize connections:
- Arrive early. The few people already in attendance will focus fully on you, and your comfort level will raise before the room is crowded.
- Leave behind (or check) big bags and briefcases. You need to be able to mingle easily.
- Feel free to join groups of more than two people. How do you think the rest got there?
- Always ask for business cards if you care to, but do not offer yours unless asked.
- If you would like to exit from a conversation, simply thank the person for the chat and the chance to meet, shake hands warmly, and move on. Skip the excuses about going to the bar or bathroom.
New acquaintances are like seedlings: They won’t grow if left alone. So, if you are serious about maintaining contact, make sure to:
- Email them right away to express your pleasure with the introduction.
- Thank them promptly if they offered or delivered something helpful.
- If you offered resources or referral, do so immediately.
- Let contacts know the outcomes of their referrals or recommendations.