Even in today's digital society where so much networking takes place online, face-to-face networking events are superior to virtual connections. The latter allow for more memorable connections, but when you attend networking events, sometimes interacting with others can make you feel like anything but a boss.
When you network, you make a presentation, and no matter your industry or your position, you are an ambassador for your company and, most importantly, for yourself.
Here are the five most effective networking strategies you will ever need.
1. Tell your story. A friend of mine told me she once attended a conference where she knew a particular decision-maker she wanted to meet and with whom she wanted to do business would be in attendance also. She spotted that person, walked up, began her pitch, but was met with the recommendation that she go online to complete the vendor application. The average person would have said, "Okay. Sure." However, this friend is far from average. She said, "I hear you, but first, allow me to tell you my story."
Less than a minute later, the professional said, "You've got my attention, and I want to do business with you."
She told her story of going from being a struggling college student who worked multiple jobs to becoming an employee who was suddenly laid-off to deciding to follow her passion and become her own boss.
Tell your zero-to-champion stories, and dare to not look, sound, or act like everyone else in the same industry or space.
2. Be a matchmaker, and seek-out other matchmakers. Everybody knows somebody. If you have your eye on a specific power partner, ask those in your circle if they know anyone who knows the person—and then ask for an introduction, and this turns into a warm lead, which is more effective than a cold email or phone call.
Be careful, though, not to take advantage of a situation, and commit to return the favor as much as possible. A first step to take is to build your own network so you can indeed reciprocate and to increase the likelihood that others will want to refer you because you have demonstrated you are a serious professional who understands and respects the power of a strong network.
3. Aim to give more than you receive. Professionals oftentimes approach networking events with the attitude of "What can I get out of who's in the room?" A better approach is to think "What can I give to everyone who's in the room?"
If you can help someone build on an idea, identify a solution, grow a plan, then you are doing more than collecting business cards, but you are establishing a relationship. People do business with and refer those they like. When you demonstrate you are not there to just take but that you are there to invest in the businesses and pursuits of others, you demonstrate your value. Aim to start and/or conclude conversations with "What can I do to help you?"
4. Be ready with a lesson, and be ready to be a learner. What is a piece of professional advice you received that resonated with you? What compelling book or article have you read that made an impression on you? What presentation have you heard or what conference did you recently attend that had you talking about it long after the event concluded? Give a mini-lesson of sorts on an experience that made an impression on you, then ask follow-up questions that puts you in the position to learn from the other person.
5. See beyond the networking event. Make it a point to continue your conversations beyond the networking event, and here's why. If someone walks away with nothing but your business card and no follow-up from you, then the likelihood of that professional being able to promote you and what you do is slim. However, if the person becomes a friend and is someone with whom you connect on a regular basis, then the person is more inclined to support you and keep an ear out for opportunities that fit your industry.
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Image courtesy of Gordon Johnson