Five Ways to Network Effectively

There is more to networking than showing up and exchanging handshakes and business cards

Meeting the right people and making the most of those interactions is what effective networking is all about. Over the course of your career, you'll have plenty of opportunities to network, be it one-on-one or at conventions, trade shows, and the like. But there is more to networking than showing up and exchanging handshakes and business cards. When you have the chance to meet and mingle, follow these five success-boosting strategies to network like you mean it! You never know who you'll meet and how your career path can benefit from the engaging encounter.

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Be Conversational, Not "Salesy"

The best way to get off on the right foot is by being genuine. Sales pitches and prepared lingo will come off as inauthentic and give the impression that you may as well be talking to anyone. Be natural and conversational, and let the meeting take shape organically.

As Entrepreneur suggests, "Keep your exchange fun, light and informal – you don't need to do the hard sell within minutes of meeting a person. The idea is to get the conversation started. People are more apt to do business with – or partner with – people whose company they enjoy. Remember, networking is all about relationship building."

Stay Focused

If you find yourself networking within a large crowd at a convention-type setting, it may seem near impossible to concentrate. But you will need to drown out the noise, ignore the chaos, and direct your attention on the person you are talking with at any particular moment. Because if they feel they don't have 100% of your concentration, you may find yourself leaving a poor impression.

Sally Haver, a senior VP at The Ayers Group tells Monster, "When people spend 50 percent of the time looking over my shoulder, I don't feel warm and fuzzy." The grass may be greener on the other side (of the room) but give the person you are speaking with the respect they deserve. Dismissing someone in the hopes of finding that "bigger and better" attendee can result in you standing alone.

Listen (at least as much as you talk)

When time is limited, you may be inclined to talk yourself up. Sure, people want to hear about who you are and what you do, but they are part of the interaction too. This isn't Shark Tank. It's not all about pitching yourself with the goal of getting something in return. Networking is a two-way street with plenty of room for everyone to share the road.

As Entrepreneur recommends, "Don't hijack the conversation. The most successful networkers (think of those you've met) are good at making other people feel special. Look people in the eye, repeat their name, listen to what they have to say, and suggest topics that are easy to discuss. Be a conversationalist, not a talker."

What Can You Offer?

Yes, you want to network to benefit your own agenda, but by helping others, you'll help yourself in the process. As Inc. notes, "If you want to connect with someone, find a way to help that person. It's always worth the trouble to find out a contact's desires and concerns. The chances are high that you'll be able to find something worthwhile you can offer. It's easy to assume that a wealthy and successful contact already has everything he or she desires and wants nothing from the likes of you. If you're thinking that way, get over it."

Monster adds, "There's no better way to establish a business networking relationship than to contribute to the solution of your new contact's pressing problem. If someone states a challenge that they're facing, respond—no later than the next morning—with something of value that addresses their issue."

As Inc. puts it, "Be generous. That doesn't mean you should only reach out to contacts or do things for them when you expect something in return."

As they say, "Do unto others…"

Keep in Touch

Networking doesn't end when the meeting is over. The whole point is to establish an ongoing rapport that will propel both parties towards a better working relationship that is mutually beneficial.

As Monster recommends, "Set yourself up for the next contact. If you intuit that a new contact will have lasting value, start building a bridge to your next exchange before you say your first good-bye."

Entrepreneur suggests, "Get in touch within 48 hours of the event to show you're interested and available, and reference something you discussed, so your contact remembers you."

Keep connected, stay in touch, and see how your relationship can flourish as you advance in your careers.

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The next time you network, you'll have the tools to make every moment worth everyone's while. Make networking really work!

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