Who networks? Everyone for different goals—either social or professional, or even, for those of us perpetually between, both. Why? Many reasons, depending on the individual and the situation.
- It’s part of doing business.
- It’s a first impression about you and your company.
- You make contacts with other businesses.
- Your personality speaks for your company.
- You may learn some useful information.
- Word-of-mouth and personal connections are game-changers, especially for small and medium-sized businesses!
Unfortunately, networking just isn't easy. Beyond the social pitfalls of how to communicate across cultures or social spheres, it can be plain difficult to talk with strangers. In the beginning it may be a struggle—often even awkward—but with enough practice, talking with people you don’t know becomes easier.
Networking as an activity, not an obligation
For those of you who have ever challenged their physical capabilities, look at networking or small talk as a sport. Learn the tactics of the game, research your opponent, plan your game as well as your opponent’s strategy, have your gear in order, warm-up—then go out to the playing field. Sound familiar? Let's expand on this theory!
What should you keep in mind during networking?
- Be interested in the other person! This is fundamental: if you're not interested in the person to whom you're speaking, you're body language will probably betray the fact.
- Check: eye contact, smile, and a friendly demeanor. Don't be afraid of body contact, but be mindful of cultural (and inter-personal) boundaries.
- Voice control. If you find yourself raising the volume or tone of your voice, you may signal to your partner that you're argumentative. (Or you may actually be arguing!) Keep cool.
That sounds easy, but a little broad. What should you not do?
- Don’t come unprepared to talk about something! Especially in more casual situations, learn a bit about whom you'll be meeting and know what you share in common. If meeting strangers, catch up on the local news. (Avoid politics!)
- Don’t be long-winded: non-stop discourse is at worst annoying, at best tiring! We can all go on and on when nervous (or excited about the topic), but your partner may not share your enthusiasm.
Don’t monopolise conversation—no soliloquys, please!
Or as Shakespeare said,
brevity is the soul of wit.
- Don’t overdo alcohol! On that topic, carrying around a drink may give you an excuse to extract yourself from unwanted conversation without insulting your partner... Nobody will know it's just seltzer water.
- Don’t gossip or talk about trivial things—you'll sound frivolous!
Tips on good networking skills:
- Have good attitude: Yes, I can! (Of course, if you really can't, don't dissemble!)
- Have a concrete goal in mind: either making contacts or getting to know someone on a personal level.
- Have business cards handy and know how to use them. Make sure your cards aren't bent or otherwise worn.
- Try to remember something about the other person at the end of the conversation—establish common ground.
- Show good listening skills: ask questions, say phrases that indicate you are listening.
- Circulate with other guests: don't monopolise a single guest.
- If another person walks up to you while you are talking with someone, introduce them.
What the end result of good networking? It gets your name and your company name out there, yields good information about something or someone, acquires you a future contact, some tips on posibilities, and so on. Good luck!