By Courtney Cho -
Do I have to go in? Ahh, networking. Some people love it, and others would rather hear nails on a chalkboard than participate. One thing, however, is undeniable: networking is an essential part of succeeding in today’s workforce. Whether you effortlessly connect with Starbucks baristas – or you have to mentally prepare for phone calls – we could all use some tips and refreshers on navigating the minefield that is professional
OUR FIVE BEST TIPS:
Practice Makes Perfect:
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be an extrovert in order to thrive around others – you just have to know how to play the game. Think of networking like a sport: the top players are the ones who practice the most. Sure, some people are naturally more skilled than others, but at the end of the day it comes down to who puts in the time and commitment toward being their personal best. Realize that networking isn’t exclusive to formal networking events; the best connections are often made when and where you least expect it – so use that to your advantage and practice as often as possible. When you set an intention to connect more with others, mundane daily moments like waiting in line for your morning coffee or Ubering in traffic to meet a client suddenly become opportunities for rehearsal. Simply put, the more you put yourself out there, the more confident you will become in not only your conversational skills, but also in your ability to adapt to different people and environments. You get out what you put in, so make a commitment to practice small talk whenever you can. And take it seriously! You never know who you’re talking to – especially in L.A.
Ditch the Elevator Pitch:
That being said, networking is ultimately about building relationships – not trying to promote yourself to gain clients or get a certain job offer. When meeting people for the first time, make it a point to keep your exchange fun and informal. There’s nothing more transparent (or off-putting) than someone trying to sell you his or her business within the first few minutes of conversation, and many people won’t want to talk work first thing at a social event. At the end of the day, people want to conduct business with those they actually like and enjoy being around. Trust us: once the conversation and connections get flowing, what people do professionally will inevitably come out. The best way to make a great first impression? Smile, be open, friendly and honest, and make generosity your goal. By setting aside your personal agenda and forging connections between people who can help each other, you will surely make a memorable (and genuine!) impression – all while broadening your personal network.
Play to Get Lucky:
According to Brian Tracy, a Canadian motivational speaker, “Luck is quite predictable. If you want more luck, take more chances.” Oftentimes, we enter into situations with the best of intentions, telling ourselves that this is the time we’ll actually work the room and put ourselves out there. When the time comes, however, the intimidation factor can be so high that we end up chatting with just one or two people for the entirety of the event – defeating the entire purpose of networking. To avoid this pattern of defeat, pick a random color before you go. Once you’re at the event, tell yourself you can’t leave until you’ve spoken to everyone wearing that color. It sounds simple – childish, even (the best advice often is!) – but it exponentially increases your chances of connecting with the right people by helping you talk to those you otherwise might not. According to psychologist Richard Wiseman, breaking out of routines is something that lucky people do – so what do you have to lose? Either way, you’re setting yourself up for success.
It’s All About Body Language:
Human beings are visual creatures, and like it or not, body language plays an extremely powerful role in shaping our impressions of one another. In fact, people often size you up within the first seven seconds of meeting you – making it all the more important to avoid unintentionally undermining your efforts to appear approachable and friendly. For the sake of simplicity, remember the acronym SAFE, which stands for Stance, Arm movement, Facial expression and Eye contact.
Stance: You want to make sure that you’re carrying yourself in a way that appears open and welcoming, so be careful not to slouch or lean on anything, and always keep one hand free for introductory handshakes. When in doubt, remember to stand tall and keep your shoulders back: Harvard researcher Amy Cuddy says using confident body language can not only positively influence how others see us, but also how we see ourselves.
Arm movement: Uncross those arms! If you’re talking to someone and your arms give off the slightest hint that you’re uninterested or bored, you’re definitely not making a good impression. Avoid playing with your hair and touching your face, which can come off as insecure and immature. If you aren’t sure what to do with your free hands, hold them behind your back – this indicates interest and engagement.
Facial expressions: This is an obvious one, but it cannot be understated: people who are genuinely smiling, holding eye contact and overall making pleasant facial expressions are the ones who come across as alert, knowledgeable and trustworthy. Are you showing that you’re listening? Are you smiling for real, or are you forcing it? Keep in mind that your future networking success relies on how you come across in your initial encounter with a person, so be as authentic as possible. And, for goodness’ sake, DO NOT YAWN mid-conversation (You might be laughing, but we’ve seen it happen more times than not. Coffee, coffee, coffee.)
Eye contact: This is a non-negotiable. Ivan Misner of Business Network International, the world’s largest business networking and business referral organization, writes, “Some of the most powerful and successful business leaders in the world are known for the impressions they make during face-to-face meetings. Their gaze never wavers from the eyes of the person they are speaking with, making them feel as if they are the most important person in the room.” The good news is, we can all master this tool, and it starts with being 100 percent present with the person you’re talking to – not looking behind him or her to see who else is there.
Master the Art of the Follow-Up:
Congratulations! You’ve just met an incredible group of women, connected through great conversation and collected a stack of promising business cards. You’re excited about all the potential that lies ahead. What now? Remember that networking is just the starting line; to develop your new contacts into real professional relationships, you need to follow-up – ideally within 24 hours. Send a quick email telling her that it was nice to meet her, and bring up something mentioned in your conversation to jog her memory and show her you were engaged. Something simple like, “Hi Cassie! It was so nice meeting you at the event last night! Good luck with your tennis match this weekend!” If you’d like to move forward, you can add a short offer of getting together: “We started talking about our similar approach in working with clients, and I’d love to continue our conversation. How does your schedule look Friday for a coffee or quick lunch?” Keep it short and sweet – the point is to stay on their radar and give them an open door to keep in touch.
What are your five best networking tips? Have you tried any of these? Have anything to add? Let us know in the comments below! We’d love to hear from you.