Improve Your Networking Skills
By Shari Steinbach, MS RDN, RDBA Contributing Editor
Regardless of what stage you are at in your career, success can be contributed in large part by the relationships you develop inside and outside of the office. Learning how to build and maintain a strong network of people is key to positive professional outcomes so it’s important to look for ways to surround yourself with meaningful groups of people who are open to helping one another. Effective networking not only provides the opportunity to learn from different individuals, but you can also reap the benefits of association and growing your own influential power. Here are some tips for improving your networking skills:
- Be prepared. Go to events with your business card and a strong headline for yourself. Think about an abbreviated elevator speech that describes why you should be relevant to others and will make you memorable.
- Do the research. Before attending any event, research the venue, speakers, attendees and sponsoring companies. Identify the individuals you may want to speak with and ask for an introduction from the event organizer if needed.
- Break away from your tribe. It may be more comfortable to hang around the people you already know, but the reality is that you are missing out on opportunities to make new important connections. Break away from your colleagues at events and engage with others.
- Be proactive and initiate conversations. Practice engaging conversation starters but remember not to monopolize the conversation. Make sure the discussion is balanced with time for both parties.
- Communicate to gain credibility. Listening and asking questions goes a long way to help build relationships and trust. Be prepared with the questions you want to ask and practice delivering messages about yourself so you feel confident and come across as genuine.
- You don’t have to be best friends. In her book, How Remarkable Women Lead, Joanna Barsh discusses the way women’s focus on deeper relationships put them at a disadvantage in the workplace. Establishing friendships takes time so remember you don’t have to be BFFs with everyone to have a good professional connection.
- Not everyone will be a good match. Understand that every connection may not be a good match or worth a large investment of your time. However, when you do find a good connection, enjoy the rich conversation and take the time to ensure successful rapport.
- Network close to home. Are there ways to create new opportunities from existing relationships? If you or your colleagues have attended events, support each other with a discussion forum to share information so others within your organization can benefit from all networking.
- Follow up is crucial. It can be through social or via the phone but make sure to follow up with contacts to help build positive long-term relationships. Connect on LinkedIn, for example, and send a personal message so people will remember where they met you. Twitter is also a good way to connect with people before and during an event. Follow the event hashtag to see what others are saying for an easy way of connecting with individuals out of your existing network.
- Create opportunities. There are many situations for positive networking so professionally insert yourself into to a buyer’s meeting, or agree to join a committee, attend an event or volunteer with an organization that’s important to you. Like any other social skill, networking will become more comfortable and effective with practice.