Networking – whether virtual or face-to-face- can be awkward for those new to it or just plain shy. In fact, many consider networking an art form. Upon reading Effective Networking Techniques by Rhonda Abrams (http://www.planningshop.com/networkingtechniques.asp) I was then inspired to adapt Ms. Abrams’ 12 tips for the online world. They are as follows:
- Know your show before you go. A famous line of music and theatre directors everywhere, it applies here too. It’s not only important to become familiar with the format and purpose of the networking event you are attending, but to become familiar with who will be attending the event too. By doing some homework in advance about the event and who will be attending, you can tailor your message to make the most of the event… for you and your target audience.
- You’re always ON so be sure to develop and practice your “elevator speech”. Whether you’re grocery shopping, having lunch with a business associate, or out socializing with the neighbors or with followers in cyberspace, opportunities always arise when you least expect it. With most having a limited attention span of no more than 30 seconds, it’s important to capture someone’s attention from the get go with a statement that is clear, concise, and relevant. Share results, not processes. Let people know how you or the products and services you provide make a difference. Most of all… be mindful that networking opportunities are evolving. Once limited to face-to-face events, technology and social networking are changing how we connect with one another. Yesterday’s elevator speech is today’s LinkedIn profile so make sure your statement is an effective one.
- Listen, ask questions, but never interrupt. Whether online or face-to-face, networking is all about building relationships. The best way to build relationships is to listen. People just love to talk about themselves. So when you meet someone of interest, give them your undivided attention. Ask them about who they are, what they do, what they are looking for, and how you can help them. They will feel so good about being with you that they will follow you anywhere. On the flip side, the quickest way to kill a relationship is to interrupt someone in mid-sentence. So when joining an existing discussion, quell your urge to interject with a related story or a point. Interrupting a discussion — whether online or face-to-face — is disrespectful. It not only sends a strong message that the “speaker’s” words carry less weight than yours, but it also demonstrates we are not actively following the conversation. So listen and wait your turn. Before you know it, you’ll be winning and influencing friends, boosting profits, and advancing your career too.
- Approach people who have a limited following. Networking can be intimidating. So whether you’re online or face-to-face, take the opportunity to “work the room” and introduce yourself to those who are alone. Most individuals like talking about themselves and will be thrilled that you “rescued” them from making the first move.
- Give people “breathing room”. Timing is everything. Whether you are face-to-face or in a discussion group online, share meaningful conversation. Save your “elevator speech” for when you are specifically asked about yourself or your business.
- Exchange business cards. Whether on card stock or in electronic form, be sure to exchange contact information, noting who they are, their goals, interests, and values, as well as how you can fulfill them.
- Market yourself … discreetly. The best way to market yourself is to be remembered for your actions; not your words. Share your knowledge or expertise. Hand out referrals if you hear a need you cannot fulfill, or complements a product or service you offer. Freely introduce your contacts to others and speak kindly of your competition. Then, be prepared to discreetly share a few brochures when asked. Whether on disk, online, or in your briefcase, purse, or car, be sure to have some brochures on hand just in case a potential customer wants more information.
- Dress for success – literally and figuratively. Did I mention, you are always ON? Regardless of where you are, dress neatly, cleanly, and appropriately as you never know who you may be meeting or the event you may be attending. Both are apt to occur on little or no notice. Figuratively speaking, conduct yourself in a way that would make your Mother proud. Whether online or face-to-face, if you are unsure about the accepted mode of dress and rules of conduct, do not assume. Check with the host/hostess in advance as both often vary.
- Show up early; stay late. When attending an online or face-to-face networking event, make it a point to show up early and stay late. Often, the best networking opportunities occur before and/or after the business portion of the event.
- Follow-up. If you experienced an especially meaningful conversation with someone — professionally or personally— specify how and when you’ll follow up with them then do so!
- Move on rather than cling on. Whether face-to-face or online, networking can be awkward, especially for those who are shy or new to it. For these reasons, we often gravitate towards people we know or stick to one person for the duration of an event. Quell the urge, move on, and work the room by introducing yourself if for no other reason than that both of you could be missing out on other opportunities.
- Circle back. At the end of a networking event, try to find and say goodbye to your most promising connections. Thank them and reiterate that you will touch base with them soon.