What do you think of when you hear the word “networking”? Awkward small talk? Name tags? Business cards? For many people, networking is a time-consuming task. But, it doesn’t have to be!
Networking can be insightful, interesting, and even fun. It allows you to form useful connections within and beyond your organisation. It enables you to exchange ideas and information. And, it may help you to advance your career.
With every person that you make contact with, you have the chance to build your knowledge and expand your opportunities.
Networking should go beyond career progression or sales opportunities – in fact, networking also offers the following key benefits:
- Improved job performance and outcomes
- Information sharing and collaboration
- Access to skills and knowledge
- Improved stakeholder management
- Enhanced visibility
- Improved self-esteem and confidence
Whatever you hope to gain from networking, it’s important to remember that your key aim should be to develop a “give-and-take” relationship with each of your contacts. Not only will this benefit everyone, but it also strengthens the connections that you form.
Your existing network is likely made up of a variety of people. From your boss and teammates, to the CEO of your company, leaders in your professional field, or social media contacts, your network will likely be much larger than you initially think.
It’s important to maintain a diverse network. Map your network and take a close look at the types of contacts you have and the functions that they serve.
Three ways that you can make your network more diverse:
- Do your research (ie social media, online professional networking sites)
- Traditional networking activities (ie trade shows, conventions, workplace events or roundtables)
- Identify any “super-connectors” (ie people who have a broad and diverse network)
Techniques for filling your network with high-quality contacts:
- Doing your homework: background research into the person that you’d like to connect with before you introduce yourself
- Using shared experiences: identify whether you have any interests in common with the person that you want to connect with
- Being generous: think about the things that you can offer
- Building your personal brand: LinkedIn is a good place to start. You could also consider starting a blog (ie WordPress), or even setting up your own video channel on YouTube
- Rehearsing conversations: script and memorise a short introduction about yourself. Create an “elevator pitch”, which means delivering your introduction in 30 seconds – the length of an average elevator ride. You could include the following:
- who you are
- what you do
- what career or industry interests you, and why
- what makes you or your organisation unique
- what solutions you can offer to people
- Asking questions: so, what brings you here? what does your normal day look like? what drew you to your career or industry? how did you get to where you are today?
- Using body language: try to look warm, friendly and relaxed. Maintain an open posture, make good eye contact, and smile!
- Following up: regularly follow up with the connections and contacts that you make. Send your contact an email one or two days after your introduction. It doesn’t have to be a long or formal message. Try to include the following:
- a reminder of where and how you met
- the reason you’re getting in touch
- you’re interest in his/her company
- what you can offer him/her
- your contact details
Remember, if you’d like to develop a network filled with high-quality contacts, it’s essential to keep the lines of communication open with them, as this will help to strengthen and solidify your relationships.