Networking is a survival business communication skill no longer just for the MBA student, career professional, or entrepreneur. Anyone—artist, job seeking international, or mid career professional—who wants to have a meaningful conversation with an audience they care about, must bring a differentiated message, and do so often. Nina Gass of Marketing and PR explains how Paris Hilton, George Foreman, and Michael Jordan did this, but how you also can, and must, in order to stand out. This, friends, is smart networking.
Smart networking tells your audience that you are deliberate, proactive, and that you care about THEIR interests first. This is no different than many of our daily interactions (business or otherwise) with people in the world around us. Imagine showing up to your favorite Starbucks, the Starbucks where everyone knows your name (most importantly, your drink), and now contrast this to a Dunkin’ Donuts drive through experience where you may never have seen the person’s face. Which company are you likely to remember?
You are more likely to remember the experience, and therefore the company, where a human connection took place, and consequently an emotional experience was developed. The bigger question, then, for you is: how would you like your networking audience to remember you? As a Starbucks experience, or Dunkin’ Donuts?
If you sense you’re Dunkin’ Donuts, don’t panic! Many of us are, without even knowing it. Let’s look at some practical tips to keep it real, focused, and effective.
1. Know yourself. This means you should have a purpose for why you are networking in the first place. It means having a differentiated message. Go back to the Nina Gass article we talked about. You can also learn more in our recent posts on networking and personal branding.
2. Be likeable. Are your eyes darting around furiously, scanning the room for other more interesting prospects while you are talking to Joe Smith? Or are you giving this person your full attention? Is it possible you can give more than you can receive on this occasion? Be open to the happenstance nature of networking. We recommend you check out “Never Eat Alone”, by Keith Ferrazzi.
3. Be prepared. Having a strategy in an organization is business 101—if you have business goals for yourself, why shouldn’t you have a strategy? As it applies to networking, this means you should do some research on who you will meet and try to learn their interests. After all, how can you contribute to a discussion if you do not know them, the challenges facing their company, what will be happening for their industry in the next few months, and so on. These points are all important as you try to stand out and explain why your skills and contributions have some real benefit for their business.
Know yourself. Be likeable. Be prepared.
Above all else, if you can focus on your human side with others, you will have succeeded in creating an emotional connection that overshadows the worth of a successfully communicated value proposition. Anything short of this, and you may find that you are leaving people with a bad aftertaste. And this is the Dunkin Donuts style we are trying to move away from.
A note to internationals and English as a Second Language Speakers: You might find networking events particularly difficult if you are new to your surroundings, or uncertain about the protocols governing networking. We have seen these tips help for first-timers:
1. Shadow a friend, when going at it for the first time, especially someone good at networking. Have him or her introduce you to others.
2. Learn the tricks of the trade. We have referenced two sources in this blog post alone. Our previous posts are full of steps to effective networking in addition to recommended texts and resources.
3. Start small. By having conversations with a new person (someone at the laundromat, the office building security guard, the receptionist, your neighborhood mail delivery person), you will break down the walls of fear that accompany new conversations.
4. Invest in personal development. If you find it is too difficult for you to attain these skills alone, and you must get adjusted soon for immediate career goals, enlist the professional help of a trainer or coach. Your return on investment will be worth every penny.
Whatever your profession or career level, smart networking is critical not only for cultural adjustment, but for your upward progression. And whatever your approach, don’t forget to be human!