Networking. It’s a word so many people dislike. It has connotations with talking to people you don’t really like, and attending events, you don’t really want to be at. By changing your mindset; networking can also mean discovering business leads at events where you can promote yourself, and the brand you represent. You can network for success by following some simple guidelines. Networking can lead to a chance to meet interesting people that you can potentially hire, or pass along to a recruitment agency. No matter what industry you are in, being effective at networking can reap some kind of benefit.
Very often managers will decline networking invitations, but the key is to establish which ones are worth attending, and to be efficient while present at those events. Great managers, who do network, expand their network and find it a subsequent part to their job. Networking is a proactive element of being a great professional. Being flawless at networking means you don’t waste time at events, and pick the ones worth attending, and stretch the potential of each person you meet.
By having a positive mindset about networking, it can also be a chance for you to create an impression on someone else, and practice the art of conversation, introductions, and cross selling. In an economy that is somewhat unstable, networking doesn’t only have to be about selling services of the company you work for, but it can be a chance for you to sell your skill set. With a goal in mind, and a positive outlook, networking can be a tremendous tool for expanding your business and personal horizon.
In a perfect world, networking events would be places that you could meet high quality caliber of clients and forge business deals, perhaps get a few personal leads for yourself, have some delicious food, and some expensive wine and be on your way. Following that, your business leads would turn into profitable gains for the company. Sounds rather perfect and not so realistic. If you can learn to be efficient, and create an impact on people at events, you can find a way to gain big rewards from just a little extra effort.
So let’s break it down. Today, many events are tedious and mind numbing to attend. Guest speakers are your run of the mill middle managers with little inspiration. The spread of food and drinks don’t excite you and the people you meet, have a slim chance of eventually leading to your next promotion. How can you turn this around, how can you take this dull grey monotonous event and make it worthwhile?
The elements to changing a drab event into one that has a benefit for you, is based on your abilities to effectively network. Even in the perfect world example, if you don’t create a great first impression, if you don’t lend your time and effort to meeting people and of course following up, you might not end up with the gains in front of you. It takes effort and coordination. To be successful at networking, the first thing to work on is your first impression.
It takes two seconds for someone to judge you. In those two seconds, people instinctively form judgments about you and a willingness to either engage in conversation with you or not. A mediocre first impression makes people believe that your skills and the organization you represent will be mediocre. An outstanding, and powerful first impression, will lead people to think that your skills and the organization you represent will be outstanding as well.
Imagine for a second you enter a networking event, and you see a gentleman in a crisp, well ironed, well fitted suit with an immaculately groomed hairstyle and inviting body language. He is smiling and his facial expressions are pleasant and sincere. His clothes match and the coordination leads you to think he takes time to perfect his appearance. On the other side of the room there is a young lady slouching in a corner, with obvious distaste that she is present at this event. She is hunched over her blackberry furiously typing away with an occasional glance up to see if anyone is approaching her. Her ruffled shirt in pastel colors clashes with her brown skirt, and her hair is messy. Which person will you be automatically drawn towards?
Now take a step back and evaluate your own image. What message are you sending? Are you inviting? Do you speak in a manner that is sincere and genuine or is your lack of enthusiasm evident when people speak to you? What signals do your clothes send?
An impressive appearance starts with choosing your best colors that flatter your natural skin color, hair color and eye color. Find clothes that fit you and remember that even with a few accessories such as a deep blue silk tie, or a striking necklace, they can play up a boring work suit. Half the problem with most work outfits is that the pieces don’t fit the body shape well. Styles should be contemporary and in vogue but does not have to be expensive or ostentatious. Look for ways you can stand out and differentiate yourself, and be remembered. Other ways to perfect your appearance is by paying attention to small grooming details. Fingernails should be clean, hairstyles should be appropriate and professional. Super gelled hairstyles that attract attention might be trendy, but they could be sending mixed messages about how professional you are.
We cannot forget that these suggestions are very superficial, they are simply recommendations to change our appearance. On the other hand, we all know that every single day we judge people unconsciously on how they look, what shoes they wear, how messy their hair is, or if their nail polish is chipped. These small observations sends message to our brain and before even speaking to the person we might have already written them off. Make sure your clothes are a reflection of your level of professionalism, the organization you represent and of course who you are.
Your appearance is just one part of your first impression, but body language and communication are also significant factors. Sincerity, confidence, passion, and polite behavior contribute to an impressive first impression. At networking events, it is common not to have the energy and desire to project an overly enthusiastic personality. Yet by showing sincerity when speaking and interacting with another person can help form relationships and build rapport. Speaking for thirty minutes to someone to gain information, or build a certain level of trust can be time-consuming, but getting straight to the point about business in the first one minute is pushy and aggressive. Use your tone of voice, and project sincerity by engaging 100% with the person you are speaking with and don’t scan the room for other prospects to approach. Focus, be confident and polite and hopefully you can get to the business crux of the conversation in ten minutes without seeming belligerent and exit the conversation.
Your tone of voice should not show urgency to leave the conversation, or un-enthusiasm. It should reflect a high level of professionalism and curtsey. The person you are speaking with needs to feel that you are actually interested in getting to know him or her. By maintaining eye contact and positioning your body in an open non-threatening way, it will help ease the conversation along, and create rapport. People who have a lax attitude who keep their hands crossed over their chest the entire conversation are sending a message they are not really interested and are perhaps bored. Smiling also helps forge a bond and pleasant facial expressions also make the other person feel comfortable. When a relationship and level of comfort can be established, diving straight into the business aspect of your conversation is absolutely appropriate. Be efficient, ask the right questions, and when you are done speaking, exit in the conversation in a polite manner.
At networking events, it is common to meet many people and accumulate a stack of business cards, but it is also hard to remember who was worth meeting and how the person might have a potential business lead for you. After a night of networking, when you get home, or back to the office, take a few minutes to write something about the significant people you met on the reverse side of their business card. This way when you flip through your stack in a few months looking for that person, you will be able to spot him or her right away. Also, if there are people who you potentially want to meet in a few months, or would like to be in contact with, send them a quick brief email. Nothing elaborate, just telling them it was great to meet them, and that you look forward to being in touch. This way you have re-enforced your name in the mind of the other person. It is better to create a relationship early on, instead of emailing them a few months later specifically for some business related advice.
So remember, when you get invite after invite of networking events, pick the events you think will be most beneficial to you. Dress appropriately and remember your clothes should be speaking the same language you want to project. Know what you want to get out of the event, and tell yourself that you will be efficient and stay for a certain amount of time, and generate some business leads. Show passion and sincerity in what you are doing and how you say things, follow up with leads you meet and hopefully translate your contacts into results for your business!