When it comes to preparing us for adult life, schools do a pretty good job. We learn basic skills like reading, writing, and mathematics and advanced skills like critical thinking, creative thinking, and public speaking. But we never learn to network. Networking, according to Lynne Waymon in Make Your Contacts Count, is “the deliberate process of exchanging information, resources, support, and access in such a way as to create mutually beneficial relationships for personal and professional success.”
Whether you are an employee, self-employed, or looking for work, networking is critical. Yet most of us struggle with it. According to a Contacts Count survey, 85% of respondents said they did not have the network they needed to accomplish their goals and 61% felt they did not know the next step to make any relationship more useful.
The good news is that, like any other skill, you can learn how to network. Here are five tips to help you:
- Change your attitude: Don’t think of networking as manipulative or one-sided. Instead, think of networking as expanding your circle of friends. Friends share common interests and help each other. Good networks operate the same way.
- Give and receive: Be a giver. When you give something useful (such as a name, a lead, a useful tip), the recipient feels more inclined to reciprocate in kind. The best networkers recognize that networking is a two-way street. The more you give, the more you get.
- Plan your conversations: Does cocktail party small talk bore you? Avoid the banal by thinking of conversation topics. Have three useful tidbits that you can “give” to your conversation partner. These can be leads on new job openings, new restaurants, good movies, latest developments in your industry, or anything else. Use these to keep the conversation flowing.
- Set goals for events: If you feel like networking events are a waste of time, setting a goal can motivate you to mingle. Keep the goal achievable, like giving your business card to five people with whom you have had a useful conversation or arrange for later get-togethers with at least three people. Once you achieve those goals, you can leave knowing your time was well-spent.
- Be persistent: It takes six interactions to build a strong connection. The follow-up get-togethers are your second interaction. Try to leave those meetings with a “to-do” that forces another interaction (either live or via email). The more people interact with you, the more they like and trust you. The more they trust you, the more willing they are to help you.
If you want to learn more about networking strategies and skills, contact Comprehensive Learning Solutions. We partner with Contacts Count to teach practical, fun, and interactive courses on networking. We can customize the course to meet your organization’s needs and can offer it as a keynote presentation, webinar, or single or multi-day class.