Networking is a cornerstone skill for successful business development. Knowing and being known is vital if you want to generate business opportunities. The problem is, networking is not part of any professional accreditation or academic qualification. Consequently, people tend to believe that networking is something you can either do or not. Good networkers are born, not made.Fact is, this fallacy of ‘natural born networkers’ is a myth. Sure, some people can walk into a room and instantly talk to anyone. Plenty can’t. Perhaps that’s you. You might be great at what you do at work, but struggle with the whole networking thing.Take comfort that most people feel the same. Networking is really coachable if you’re willing to learn. And it’s a skill for life that will serve you socially as well as commercially. Whether you have any kind of business development angle to your role or you’re just looking to enhance your profile, you won’t do it without networking. So to connect quickly and build trust fast, here are eight really smart tips for you:
- First Mover Advantage. Make an effort to approach strangers and introduce yourself. They expect to be approached! Networking is a pro-active skill. Being a wallflower is not an option.
- Manners Matter. Whether you’re the managing partner or IT support, the way you behave with people matters. Studies show people remember less exactly what you say but more about how you make them feel. Be polite and courteous at all times, even to the rude people.
- Fluidity Is Your Friend. Keep things fluid and be prepared to move on. If you’re feeling trapped and bored in a conversation, guess what they feel? The good networkers sense the right time to disengage for both parties, and keep things moving.
- Eat, Drink and Be Merry. For many people, the disengagement piece is the hardest part of networking. They don’t know how to get away. Even CEOs and managing partners I’ve worked with struggle with the ‘getting in and getting out’ of networking. The easiest way to move people on is by inviting them to drink, eat or meet a third party with you. As you change the dynamic, you’ll bump into other people and the situation will change.
- The power of presence. If you’re talking to someone, keep your head in the conversation. A mentor of mine once said ‘when you’re in the room, be in the room.’ Be present and in the moment. Move with tact. Nobody wants to see you networking with your trainers on, flitting round the room looking for the next deal.
- The Power is In The Asking. Most networkers struggle because they don’t ask enough of the right questions. Structure your conversations with great questions, moving through small talk to their business, their issues and, if you see a need, their current suppliers and advisers. This is coachable and needs some preparation to get the best out of any social or business situation.
- Like Attracts Like. It’s well known in psychology circles that people are attracted to people like themselves. Look for people your age, height and even gender if you want to make things easier for you and calm the nerves. When you intentionally decide who you’re most comfortable talking to, you put yourself in better positions.
- The Power Of Scripts. The worst time to think of the best thing to say is when you’re actually saying it. Prepare your lines for a variety of situations so you’re ready. For instance, what’s your ‘go to’ line when dealing with rude people or talking to a competitor? What’s your elevator pitch when people ask you what you do? better to prepare this stuff now than hope to come up with something good on the spot.
Great networkers know how to start, develop, and most importantly end lively and interesting conversations that build rapport and generate new work. Winning work is the responsibility for everyone in the firm, and if nobody is going to train you to do it, you’ve got to train yourself.