Whether you own a business, or are looking for a new job or next opportunity, networking is a must these days. But, networking functions aren’t for everyone. Many people aren’t keen on standing in a room filled with strangers, and feeling like you’re asking and answering the same questions with every conversation.
If networking doesn’t come naturally to you, take heart. There are some simple steps you can take to improve this critical skill and make any networking event work for you:
1. Don’t overlook any opportunity to network.
Good networkers will find networking opportunities anywhere…whether it’s a formal networking event or in line at the grocery store or waiting at the pediatrician’s office.
Just as you don’t want to overlook any opportunity to network, you also don’t want to look over anyone’s shoulder either. You never know where a conversation will lead, so try to connect with anyone and everyone at a formal networking event. Countless people have landed a new job or client by chatting with someone who knows someone who knows someone. The moral of the story is to appreciate every person you meet and don’t keep scanning the room to talk to someone ‘better.’
2. Focus on what you can give, rather than get.
Too many entrepreneurs and jobseekers approach a networking event thinking that it’s their one shot to get x, y, or z. This way of thinking puts so much pressure on a single event, there’s no way you could ever enjoy it.
If you’re setting the stakes too high, you need to change your mindset. Don’t think about what you need to get from networking. Rather, focus on how you can contribute to the event, help others, or just learn something new. This change in mindset will remove all that pressure and in no time, you’ll be building strong relationships, getting loads of leads, and actually enjoying yourself.
3. Don’t be too desperate.
Neediness is a major turn-off; that’s true whether you’re dating or networking. Don’t send the message that your main purpose is to get something from the event. The underlying premise there is that you’re deprived of something and you need someone to save you.
4. Don’t ask questions that can’t be answered with a simple answer.
If you can’t stand all the small talk that takes place at a networking event, ask questions that require a real answer – such as “What is your customer’s biggest challenge?” In addition, “why” questions (like ‘why do you think that is?) typically lead to more interesting, in depth conversations.
5. Drop the elevator pitch and speak in plan English.
A lot of buzzwords get thrown around at networking events and unfortunately, they usually ruin the chances of having a meaningful conversation. Yes, you do want to practice responses to common questions – but your answers need to be natural and draw people in (and that means no industry jargon or buzzwords).
6. Practice, practice, practice.
Networking is just like any other professional skill; you need to work on it. While everyone else may look like natural networkers, the reality is that networking is rarely a skill that anyone is just born with. You need to learn from experience and hone your craft. And the best way to do that is to just get out and try.
Editor’s Note: This was originally written by Nellie Akalp for BlogHer.