Networking is an art and it is not easy. It certainly is not everyone's cup of tea. To be clear, I am talking about face-to-face, in-person interactions. Social networking is all the craze right now and it is a viable networking tool but there are so many imminent clear benefits of live interaction that I feel is necessary to share today.
As I think about the #CMWorld conference next week, I squeal with excitement with the opportunity to network with many new people. When you break down the art of networking there are some important skills to master.
Here is a list of a few that I believe are important for making an "in-person" connection and lasting impression.
1. Ask a lot of questions:
I mean WIFT (what's in it for them). Find out all about them and don't be shy to ask questions that is not necessarily just about business. Feel out the environment before you go asking personal questions but understand that if you ask the same questions and talk about the same topics that the other 500 people have spoken about, you are less memorable in your networking moment of fame.
2. Be Yourself:
Authenticity goes a long, long way. You don't have to completely put on a different persona in business networking events as you would at a friends wedding. Be who you are always. If you have professional experience you understand where the boundaries are naturally.
3. Find Common Ground:
If you are at a conference, talk about it but don't just talk about it, you know. Feel out the person. Find out some details about their professional and personal lives. Pets, kids, hobbies and you do this to find some common ground. This is not an easy task for all of us. It really is a fine art to dance around, asking all of these questions, trying not to sound like you are interrogating a suspect! Seriously, the only advice I can give here is simply, the more you do it, the better you will get!
4. Perfect the Handshake:
How do you know if you have the handshake thing down pat? Well, try to make it firm but not too strong. You do not want to hurt anyone. Don't be sloppy, floppy, sweaty or show any insecurity in your handshake which leads to the next point. Make eye contact.
5. Make eye contact:
When engaging in conversation you must always make eye contact. If you want someone to listen and trust you, your body language, especially eye contact is extremely important. If you feel that this is an issue for you, my advice is to have self awareness and know that this is something that you need to work on. If you feel too overwhelmed to walk up and engage in small talk with eye contact please just save it for next time.
6. Be Positive, not Critical:
Whatever you do, do not insult anyone or anything in conversing with a stranger because that is a total turn off. Nobody appreciates that kind of negativity and criticism unless you feel compelled to give your honest opinion. When doing so, please be the least critical as possible. Just try to avoid these situations at all cost. If all else fails, just laugh and tell them they are funny, then walk away fast :).
7. Plan ahead:
If you don't know what you plan to talk to someone about and are not the best at winging it then plan ahead of time what you want to say. Nothing worse than having an awkward moment and uncomfortable silence. Strategize in your head first, it only takes a second. Do not act impulsively because you only get one chance at a first impression.
I hope that I can take action on my own advice. Networking is sometimes daunting and overwhelming but if you imagine it as a chance to have fun, schmooze, meet lots of new people and learn some great interesting things then you have the recipe for success.