There has been much made of the impact technology has had on our interpersonal skills in recent years. Many pundits have argued that the lack of intimacy and connection in digital communication make us more detached from one another. The rise of internet dating apps is often held up as proof of this, and the incomprehensible drivel youngsters seem to speak is probably equally as telling. This has profound implications for the future of networking and our ability to form the deep, trusting relationships necessary in business. Networking is essential for growth, providing opportunities for greater exposure and to make connections that will provide some help to you directly or refer you to someone who can. It is also an excellent way of improving your career prospects. In a recent survey by LinkedIn of 15,905 members across 17 countries, 80% of respondents believe professional networking is important to career success.
The nature of networking is, however, changing. Digital platforms and electronic devices are the priority for millennials, who are now the dominant demographic in the workforce, and social networks such as LinkedIn have become critical networking tools. While this way of communicating has many benefits, making it easier to build a relationship in the long term, it is not a good way to make that initial connection, and if you want to build a deeper relationship over time, you need quality rather than quantity. This quality comes through meeting face-to-face.
Here are 6 tips you should remember when networking.
Identify your targets
You need to use your time wisely at networking events and go in knowing what you want to achieve. Many networking events will have a list of who’s attending on the website, so identify who is best placed to help you reach goals so you can make them a priority.
Be smart about who you target
While it may seem to make sense to go in aiming for the top, it's a lot easier to form a connection with someone who is early in their career. Competition for senior executive’s time is going to be far fiercer, and it’s likely they’ll be talking to others of a similar status. Intruding in such conversations in inevitably going to be difficult. Don’t make the mistake of discounting people due to their titles, look for people who are interesting, motivated, and going places. Even if they don't end up becoming a CEO, they may have valuable connections or knowledge you can use.
Prepare what you want to say
Preparation is the foundation of confidence, and you need to have ready a concise description of your business and how you want to frame it. Also, try and connect with people you want to meet on social media beforehand, and look at their activity (posts, shares, likes, photos) and a bit about their company so you have a vague idea of their interests - although be careful not to go overboard and creep them out.
Once you’ve acquired your target, introduce yourself. Ensure that you enunciate your first and last name. If those you’re connecting with don’t know your name, there is very little point in the whole exchange. Make an effort to remember the names of those around you too, being sure to repeat them back regularly. Nick Clegg did it in the 2010 UK election and it helped him become deputy prime minister.
In networking, as in life, if you’re boring then people will immediately look for an exit. They also definitely won’t want to continue the conversation afterwards. The key is to be interesting, even unexpected. This doesn’t mean showing them your gnome collection or throwing a ball at their face, it means provoking a reaction, preferably a positive one, so they’ll remember you. Obviously, being interesting is hard to learn, but if you’re open, friendly and honest, you’re already most of the way there. It is also important to take an interest in them before blathering on about yourself. Networking conversation works best when you spend around 25% of it talking about yourself - when questions are asked, preferably - and the remaining 75% actively trying to learn about them. Don’t ask questions that could have a one-word answer, ask open-ended questions for which the answer will like lead to a follow-up. Lead with ‘what are your thoughts on?’ as opposed to ‘how long’ or ‘what is’.
Give Before You Get
Don’t just bulldoze into a conversation and start asking someone for help, you want to at least try and vaguely conceal your motives. Instead, focus on making conversation and forging a genuine connection that means they want to talk to you again, not dread it slightly because they think you’re going to be asking for something. When it comes to referring to an exchange of services, make sure it is you who offers first. Even then, try to put the thought of reciprocity out your mind. That attitude will likely show through and people will think you're using them.