With the climb in popularity over the last few years of social media platforms and online business networking, the popularity and number of in-person networking events have also increased, offering infinite opportunities for those who take the initiative to venture out and see what's happening in the business world, away from the computer screen.
In addition to large networking organizations and general one-size-fits-all networking events, new groups that focus on particular niches or industries are popping up all the time, providing more targeted opportunities for meeting new contacts, mentors, and potential clients. A newer concept in networking circles and events brings trendsetting business leaders and entrepreneurs together with brands, venues, and organizations that are looking to gain exposure with just that crowd, creating a win-win for all.
So, how do the savviest networkers make the most of all these opportunities? They follow a few key practices that greatly increase the value of what they take away, as well as what they have to offer others they meet.
Heather Hope-Allison, marketing expert and founder of The Buzz Girls private networking group in Los Angeles, suggests, "Nurture relationships from assistants to CEOs, as everyone is influential in their own way." She also advises, "Focus on building relationships with people you truly connect with. They'll last longer than trying to force a connection that just doesn't vibe." Both great tips.
Through my years of taking part in organizing all kinds of events, working with clients on networking and business building, and, honestly, running into people at networking events who've made me want to run for the hills, I've identified a few practices regularly used by super successful and dynamic people. Add these to your networking savoir-faire, and you'll begin to see big results.
1 ) Approach each event and the people you meet from the standpoint of "What can I give?" rather than "What can I get?" When you genuinely look to be of service to others, you will be amazed at the doors that will open for you.
2) Don't hand someone your business card within the first 2 minutes of meeting in an attempt to manufacture a contact without even knowing anything about the person. Random card dropping is generally not productive, and can be perceived as disingenuous. More times than not, your card will end up in the circular file. There are rare exceptions to this, so just let your intuition guide you. Instead, spend time speaking to those you meet. Find out what they do, where they're from, and even what they like to do outside of business. Be genuinely, enthusiastically interested in people, and quality opportunities, great connections, and even new friendships will come naturally.
3) When someone gives you his or her business card, think of it as a great compliment. Follow the traditional Japanese custom of treating the card, and therefore the person, with great respect. Instead of immediately shoving it in your pocket or handbag, study the card and then hold it with both hands while you continue your conversation. If you spot something on the card that inspires a question or comment, even better. When the time is right, find a quiet way to place the card in a safe spot.
4) Give the person or people you are talking to your full attention. This may sound like a no-brainer, but think of all the people (and you may be realizing right now that you are one) whose eyes are darting around the room to see who else is there while they're half listening to the people they've just met. People pick up on this immediately, and they will remember you for it. It's much more valuable and productive to give your complete focus on the opportunity before you. It's also courteous. If there are other people worth meeting at the same event, you can create that opportunity by finding polite ways to move on when the time is just right. That's the time to be looking for whom you'd like to meet next.
5) Your smile is one of your greatest commodities. It's absolutely, 100% true, and I can't stress it enough. A warm, true smile will open more doors than the shiniest background or business card. Your smile is your greatest chance to make a sparkling impression.
Whether you're just starting out in your career, launching a new business, or advanced in your profession, effective networking know-how is one of the most important skills you can possess. Learn how to work it in creative, dynamic ways and it will be one of your most valuable keys to greater success in anything you dream to accomplish.
Follow Kristi Blicharski on Twitter: www.twitter.com/kristimb