Just because you are a networking novice does not mean you have to look like it. Here’s how to put your best networking foot forward, no matter how new you are to the game.
Getting over networking nerves
We all know how it feels to be nervous. That sick filling in the pit of your stomach. And in extreme cases, our bodies have a nasty habit of letting us down with shakes, stammers or worst of all, unsightly sweat patches. No wonder we dread situations that trigger this reaction.
But have you considered the positive side of nerves. Yes there is a positive side. Nerves mean you care about something which is fantastic, so do not treat them as an enemy. Like most things, it comes down to practice – with your parents, with your friends, or the person sitting next to you on a train - just expose yourself to experiences where you need to explain who you are. With practice, you will get better and better at it.
The importance of an opener
As your career progresses, you will come to realise how many people we meet in our professional life. Networking events magnify that even further.
There is nothing wrong with a standard greeting of “Nice to meet you, my name is…” but it will not make you memorable. The opportunity here is not to be irrelevant or shocking for the sake of impact. Rather it is a chance to refine your opening to a quick snapshot of who you are as a professional. The verbal equivalent of the tagline you have created for LinkedIn and your business cards.
Just keep your opener succinct and relevant and always finish with a question that shows interest in who the other person is – not just in yourself.
Be authentic when networking
You are going to feel like you have heard this a thousand times, but the importance of being yourself is universal to every topic we are talking about and networking is no exception. People will value your honesty and will be more likely to want to stay in touch with you, help you out, and introduce you to other people in their networks.
First impressions are so easily confused by our own behaviour. When we are overly quiet or shy, we may come across as aloof. Or when we amp up the volume it is perceived as precocious or arrogant. Practice is essential to achieve the balance between the two and allow your unique DNA to shine through.
And if you are serious about mastering this, toughen up and ask others for feedback. It may sting but if you treat it as constructive, it could be the most powerful step you take to becoming a liked and well-received professional.
Don’t over extend your welcome
Have you ever been deep in a fascinating conversation with someone when they have politely interrupted you with a vague need to be somewhere else? Ouch! Chances are this premature exit indicates the conversation was much more interesting for you than it was for them.
Your network connections will be more valuable and have greater longevity if you do not spend all your time talking about yourself or asking what people can do for you. A conversation should be two-way and a favour should be earned.
Particularly at the beginning of your career when you are more likely to need someone than they need you, practice listening more and asking questions when you meet people. And look for opportunities where you can offer a favour or provide assistance first to establish the relationship as reciprocal.
The second impression
You have made a new connection. Congratulations! But what should you do next? This is your opportunity to make a great second impression. Link them in, send an email or pop a handwritten note in the mail for real impact. Keep it brief, but do make sure you remind them of where and when they met you, the value you gained from the experience and if possible include a genuine compliment or reference to something they said that impressed you. Sign off with a thank you for their time and invitation to stay in touch.
But it is important not to push too hard. Like all relationships, a new professional connection is more likely to thrive if you take your time and get to know someone properly.
Nurture your new professional relationships by looking for genuine opportunities to stay in touch. There are many ways to do this without becoming a pest, like occasionally sharing articles you see that are of mutual interest. As each new person joins your network, more potential doors to the future will open.