Networking is a skill you can acquire just like any other. Sure, while you’re learning you might make some mistakes but the reality is, mistakes are lessons to learn from.
To help you quickly master the skills you’ll need, here are 5 networking hacks.
If you feel awkward when networking, then you’ll need to learn the art of rapport-building and getting your message across. If you don’t know how to open a conversation, that’s something else you can learn – and if you don’t feel confident inside – that too is a skill you can acquire.
To master your networking skills, it’s worth asking yourself some questions first:
- Do I have the right attitude?
- Do I have the right expectations?
- Do I have the right approach?
- Do I have a clear and simple message to put across?
- How do I leave a lasting (good) impression?
1. The Right attitude
Networking happens everywhere – not just at dedicated networking sessions, but at informal meetings, dinners, online forums and chatrooms. Wherever it is, networking should be fun. If your attitude is one of apprehension, then you’ll find yourself getting in the way.
There are ways to create the right attitude. One is to remember a time when you were really confident, and to imagine yourself back in that moment. Build a sense of confidence inside of you, noticing how you stand, how you move and talk. Notice how your posture and feelings affect your bodily sensations and bring those feelings with you into the room.
You can add in excitement and a sense of fun for good measure. If you’re not sure how to do this, a good NLP trainer will help you access those emotions and use them, or books such as Paul McKenna’s I Can Make You Confident will teach you the technique in detail.
2. The Right expectation
Growing from the attitude is the expectation. Many people on entering a stressful situation imagine all the terrible things that could go wrong – for example, stumbling over their words, laughing at the wrong moment, or having food caught in their teeth. (That last one is easily solved with a glance in the mirror and a toothpick!)
Having the right expectation comes from where you choose to put your attention. If you rehearse in your mind your approach and outcome prior to networking, seeing yourself interacting with others and making connections that will be profitable to everyone, then you are building the right expectation.
Combine your clearly imagined scenario with the emotions of confidence and excitement you’ve already built inside yourself, and your whole physiology will start to light up. People notice that.
Of course, there are times when being utterly happy might not be appropriate, but the point is that if you match your expectation with a strong sense of confidence and useful emotion, you will project yourself more effectively.
This is equally true in a chat room or an online forum as in a physical situation. We all know about trolls who pick fights with others then crawl back under their bridge to wait for the next unsuspecting traveller to ambush with an argument or a challenge… Don’t be that troll!
There are voices in forums that stand out because they are upbeat and helpful. Be that person and you will draw people to you.
3. Your approach
It shouldn’t be surprising that if you speak to someone with confidence, graciousness and friendliness they will usually respond similarly.
Of course, there are exceptions – that troll I mentioned earlier might bite. Ignore them. Improve your chances by noting how someone is behaving.
Do they look agitated or open to chat? Can you draw them out with a few choice questions about what they do and who they are?
Once you start to get information about them, you can assess whether there’s a possible “fit” with what you do.
And don’t be put off. If someone’s being rude or sullen, then that’s not your fault, unless you accidentally kicked them in the shins.
4. Your message
Imagine you’re pitching an idea to a businessman. Do you want the message to be easily understood or are you going to wrap it round with detail and technicalities before you even get off the blocks?
If Shakespeare were pitching Hamlet to a Hollywood producer today, would he say: “It’s a story about a guy, and he sees his father’s ghost, and he believes his father was killed by his uncle, who is the king and… and… and…”
Or, would he go for the place where the curiosity is: “It’s a story about the revenge of a young prince for the death of his father, the King of Denmark. His uncle has stolen his father’s throne and married the prince’s mother…”
5. Your lasting impression
Once you’ve enthused someone with your fantastic message, make sure you leave them wanting more, with the idea that you’re a great person to follow up. A unique business card, a great website, an interesting and pertinent business name or twitter handle all point in the right direction.
Do you have a giveaway – a pen, a book – or something else, with a wise word or a joke attached so they remember you? Shake hands if that feels right, and do it firmly. A firm strong hand conveys reliability – a limp, weak handshake can leave others feeling uncomfortable.
There: you’ve done it. Now, be ready to follow up.