Networking—never again! Networking events are teeming with desperate career climbers smarming up to smug high-fliers, eating pretentious canapés and nodding like sycophantic dogs to any meaningless “advice.” Okay, that's an exaggeration, but it's still a pointless exercise. Nobody gets anything out of it, does he?
In fact, networking has grown significantly in recent years. Online networking is gaining traction, with sites such as LinkedIn becoming more important in a networking strategy. If the thought of face-to-face networking makes you cringe, it might be time to reconsider.
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The reason so many of us despise networking and claim to be bad at it is that we've been doing it all wrong. It should not be about projecting a false and superficial image of yourself, bragging about how great you are, or sucking up to people. It is about making valuable, long-lasting, and mutually beneficial contacts one at a time. Here are some great tips to help you become a networking whiz without selling yourself short.
1. Tailor networking to your specific needs
Ignore any networking advice that tells you to act a certain way. Forcing yourself to act in ways that aren't natural to you will not benefit anyone in the long run; you'll still dislike networking, and everyone you connect with will have a distorted view of who you are. Also, disregard anyone who claims that attending big events is the best way to make connections. Change it if you despise networking as it is. Do you dislike large crowds? Set up one-on-one meetings. You're not a talker, are you? Instead, pay attention.
2. When it comes to fashion, less is more
Attending every event, meeting, and talk will not result in an increase in contacts. You will be far more productive if you choose which events to attend with care. That way, you can be more focused on what you want to get out of each meeting, rather than attending event after event and becoming drained and uninspired.
3. Make a plan for your first impression
You only have one chance to make a good first impression, so use it wisely. I'm not saying you should fake a grin and practice your handshake (though that is important), but think about conversation starters or other ways to start an interesting conversation. If you know specific people who will be there who you want to get to know, learn a little bit about them before you meet so you have something to talk about.
4. Be of assistance
Many people dislike networking events because socializing with strangers can be intimidating. Instead of awkwardly standing by the buffet, offer to assist. This will provide you with something to talk about while also giving the impression that you are helpful and selfless.
5. Take your place in line
This is a devious strategy, but it is bound to work. If you're going to a networking event by yourself and have no one to talk to, join the line! Any line: the bar, the buffet, the restrooms, you name it! Queuing is a very British activity that can be used to strike up a conversation with the person in front of or behind you. You effectively have a captive audience, and conversing will become easier. There is also a time limit, so if you happen to get in line next to a complete bore, you know it will be over soon.
6. Establish networking objectives
Going to an event with a goal in mind will increase your productivity. Try to make one or two useful connections, or if there is someone in particular you want to meet, try to get their attention. Once you've accomplished your objective, you can politely excuse yourself rather than loitering, forcing conversation, or overstaying your welcome.
7. Demonstrate rather than tell
Don't bore people with rehearsed tales of your greatness. Rather, show your greatness in real life. Be friendly, greet others with a smile, and offer to assist others whenever possible.
8. Conduct research
You wouldn't show up to an interview unprepared, so don't do the same at networking events. Find out ahead of time who will be there and which organizations you should connect with. You will be less intimidated by the situation if you are familiar with the companies and individuals you are likely to encounter.
9. Pay attention
People's nerves frequently cause them to gabble their way through awkward situations. Have you ever noticed how everyone is talking but no one is listening? Take the role of the listener. People are more likely to remember you for your attentive interest while they were speaking than for your shouting over them. People are flattered when you listen to what they have to say, so you will undoubtedly form some good relationships as a result of your listening ability.
10. Follow-up or let it go
Networking events are only the start of a relationship. There was no point in going if you did not follow up with the people you met. Follow up by adding your new contacts to LinkedIn, sending them an email, or calling them. You could even arrange a one-on-one meeting to get to know each other better if you want.
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