Networking. A single word powerful enough to send many running for the corner of a room! It can evoke feelings of awkwardness and distress. It often conjures images of polyester suits with pockets full of business cards, self-stick nametags, wilted veggie trays and warm drinks. Everyone – without exception – has felt this way at some time in their professional career.
Good news, though: you can learn to love networking. All it takes is a little practice. Over the last 15 years, I’ve noticed some patterns in what works for networking success and thought I’d share with them with you.
1. Stop thinking of it as networking: Think of it as relationship building. The goal of networking is not generating sales, it’s building connections in your community. If you approach the process as building potential friendships you will ultimately make it more enjoyable for everyone you meet.
2. Six Degrees of Separation: Make a game out of networking. In my mind I play “Six Degrees of Separation”. For those of you who don’t know, Six Degrees of Separation is the idea that every living being in the world is six or fewer steps away from each other – that a chain of “a friend of a friend” statements can be made to connect any two people in a maximum of six steps. I try to make both personal and professional connections with people I meet at events within six degrees. From there, the conversation possibilities are endless. You might just be surprised at how good you are at this game!
3. Talk about the weather: Yes, I said it! Talk about the weather, but tie it to something interesting about your life or work. Example: I hope this rain doesn’t continue into tomorrow – my company picnic will be awfully soggy! Example: If this snow keeps piling up my kids will have a snow day for sure! This provides an opportunity to expand on some small talk and find something in common.
4. Point of interest: Consider wearing an interesting piece of jewelry, scarf or tie. It can serve as a conversation starter. Then be on the lookout for someone doing the same thing. Example: That’s a great scarf you are wearing! Was it a gift?
5. The follow-up: Be sure to provide value when you reconnect. Reach out with something useful like an article pertaining to the other person’s industry or the name and contact info of an individual or organization that may be a resource for them. Example: Last evening we spoke about our mutual love of Boston. Here is the link to the restaurant I frequent when there. Example: You mentioned your son is looking for an internship while he is home for the summer. Have him contact my company’s human resources department to learn more about our program.
6. The tickle: Keep in touch with those you meet. Send sporadic emails that provide value and keep you on the top of their minds. Example: The Chamber of Commerce is offering a lunch & learn next week and I thought the topic might interest you. Maybe I’ll see you there? Example: My company picnic did turn out to be rather soggy, but we made the most of the day and the venue was great!
7. Be genuine: Whether it’s networking, dating, or getting along with your in-laws, you need to step outside of yourself and take a genuine interest in the other people around you. Some pretty amazing things can happen when you do.
About the Author: Rina Corigliano-Hart is an account consultant for OneGroup, one of the region’s largest and fastest growing insurance and risk management firms. She currently leads the OneSelect Small Business Program designed exclusively for entrepreneurial and emerging companies. Contact Rina at RHart@OneGroup.com