As business people, we too often treat networking opportunities like parties: we attend and participate with no plan. While a haphazard approach might yield some result, a more studied strategy is the better choice. Having goals associated with your networking effort, executing strategies and tactics conducive to achieving real business objectives can pay off in ways merely “socializing” will not.
Yesterday I indicated the importance of choosing an appropriate venue for your networking. Finding events and opportunities in which you are comfortable and interested helps to assure you are authentic in your approach and a good first step in planning a networking strategy. We also discussed the real need to put your business persona in the background and to involve yourself from a position of being willing to assist others achieve their objectives.
Prior to attending a networking opportunity, think through the event, practicing mentally your self-presentation.
This is not meant to be an exercise in self-consciousness, but rather an effort to confidently be able to articulate not only your reasons for participation, but also to anticipate some very likely comments you will hear:
- “ What do you do?”
- “I thought travel agents were dead!”
- “Can you get me a deal to Hawaii?”
- “Can you beat the internet?”
Learn how to respond to these types of inquiries as opportunities for educating civilians without any hint of indignation!
If you have acquaintances at the networking opportunity, ask for help meeting people. If you do not, consider offering your assistance in an organizational role to further integrate your presence.
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Think in terms of the quality of your networking experiences, not the quantity. Work with each person you meet as you would any opportunity. Listen carefully, and first consider the needs of the person you are addressing. Finding a way to address their needs is an entrance to addressing your own.
When you return home, follow up on the contacts you made. Write them a short email or note and offer again to provide assistance with their efforts. Leave your own needs in the background to gain a quiet momentum based on your own authentic nature.
It’s called “networking” because there is real work involved. A bit of planning and strategy will make all of your social encounters more productive and enjoyable.