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The Art of Networking

According to a study in The New York Times, being in a room full of strangers is the number one social fear, even above the number two fear – speaking in public. Being able to talk to people comfortably is highly correlated with success and affluence. And in today’s job market, networking is essential because sixty-five to ninety-five percent of job openings are not advertised. They are found through networking.

What I’ve learned about networking is that if you’re prepared, you won’t be scared. These tips can help you get started:

Do your homework. The first step I take is to research the event I will be attending. Learn about the organization that is hosting the event and the key players who will be attending. You can do this by reading the organization’s newsletters, visiting their Web site and/or asking who will attend.

Set goals. Do you want to meet a certain person? Meet as many people as possible? Determine, ahead of time, what you want to accomplish.

Prepare a brief self-introduction. Aim to make a lasting impression. When making your self-introduction, you will capture your listener’s attention if you do the following:

  • Headline something specific about your work up front, leaving your name at the end so people hear it last
  • Use a story, example or tip to illustrate your work
  • Isolate one or two unique skills or services that you offer

Ask powerful questions. Ask others questions to invite conversation. Powerful questions are open-ended and make people go inward and answer from their gut or heart. Here are some questions I have asked.

  • I am sure you get invitations to lots of events. What made you decide to come to this one?
  • What do you know about… ? Oh, you don’t know? Let me teach you something about…
  • How has… impacted your life?
  • What business challenges are you wrestling with now?
  • What do you think about… ?

Be open. Be open to new ideas, opportunities and people.

Circulate. Talk with as many people as you can at a networking function. One way to feel comfortable doing this is to think of yourself as the host. Mingle. Introduce people to one another. Offer to get someone a drink.

Give just to give. In his book, How to Be a Star at Work, Robert Kelley writes, “Networking is the way work gets done. That’s why stars turn to others to get help. They use networks to multiply their productivity.” According to Kelley, stars understand the economics of networking. Average performers look at networking as if it were a right: They call someone they don’t know and simply demand help. Stars realize that networking is a barter system. If you expect people to trade with you, you have to establish that you have something worth trading. You have to have expertise that people need but don’t already have. You also have to be patient: Be prepared to help out a lot of people before you ask anyone for help in return. Start with a negative trade balance; it takes time to build up credits

Treat everyone as equals. There is no real value in title or prestige alone. Value is in the information and support people can give, and that often comes from surprising sources.

Be courteous. Listen to others when they speak. Don’t monopolize the conversation. Get to the point quickly.

Fall in love with people. Give a “I’m sincerely pleased to meet you and I mean it”‘ hand shake with solid eye contact and genuine interest. This is the handshake I strive to master. It requires you to be totally present and pay attention to the other person. Isn’t this what shaking hands should be about?

Ask for referrals. Contrary to what you might think, the best time to get referrals is during the “honeymoon” stage of a relationship, when you are getting to know and like each other. Don’t make the mistake of waiting until you have “proven” yourself to ask for referrals.

Say thank-you. Thank the people who have helped you.

Follow through. Follow through on your commitments, both to yourself and others. A good referral or piece of advice only becomes activated into help when you follow it up.

Keep good records. Take full and accurate notes. Otherwise, you will never remember what you’ve committed to do. Keep lists, schedules, and cross-referenced files. Write reminder notes about people you’ve met on the back of their business cards.

Networking is an art, and like any artist, you need to constantly practice, refine and critique your work. Networking makes a huge contribution to your life and career, and it’s a skill you can acquire.

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