Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Networking for Personal and Professional Success

How many times have you met a new contact, exchanged business cards and “bam” you have another contact to add to your personal and/ or professional network? If only it were that simple! Networking is about making a connection with a person and taking it beyond the business card. Think of it as inserting the plug of a lamp into a wall socket to get electricity. If there’s no electric connection, you get no light. That’s the same thing with networking.

Here are some steps to help you make a connection the next time.

1. Be Strategic. When you go to events, conferences, etc. do you leave wondering if you made any good connections? Well, what do you do prior to the event? Did you research the type of individuals invited, did you research the keynote speaker? What was your purpose for attending the event? Make a game of these things. Say to yourself, I want to meet at least five people that can get me to the right person or lead me in the right direction in meeting my professional and personal goals. Who knows, this can be an excellent start and a good point of reference. Now, if you meet more than five people, you’ve exceeded your goal. The thing to keep in mind is you’re going in with a plan to use your time effectively.

2. Introduce Yourself with Ease. We get caught up in trying to introduce ourselves with a big title in which we confuse ourselves and others we’re introducing ourselves to. Don’t worry about the title. People want to know who you are. Why not create a few introductions that feel comfortable for you. It should be quick and direct so when someone else comes into the conversation, that person can introduce you with ease. In other words, have your pitch ready. For example, if someone asks me what I do at a networking event, I would say, my name is Reggie Waller and I’m a Business and Personal Coach. I help people meet their personal, career and business goals one step at a time ... let me help you make it happen! When you create your pitch, think of three things you want to say about your role or position in your job or organization. Say it in a triad as presented above; I help people meet their 1) personal, 2) career, and 3) business goals.

3. Don’t limit your networking locations. Some think most networking occurs when attending business conferences, lunch meetings, etc. In fact, it can take place at your kids’ school, your volunteer and community organization and in your normal day-to-day activities. Networking is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time to build trust and build relationships with people. Think about it. You can go to the bookstore and bump into someone and start chatting about a particular book. Next thing you know, you're exchanging information. Did you plan on networking at that point in time? Maybe not, but networking can take place anywhere, at anytime.

4. Exchange Cards Effectively. What does that really mean? Do you get a business card and put it in your pocket without making a real connection? Don't hand out business cards just to be handing them out. Before you leave the conversation, ask the individual if you can keep in touch. Let them share their card with you first and then give them yours. After the conversation, write some notes down on their card. This will help when you go back to office or when you go to reconnect with them; you’ll have some information from your conversation as a follow-up. And follow up is key. As soon as possible, either the next day or within the same week so they will remember you. It shows that you are prompt and have excellent follow through skills and are serious about networking and making a connection.

5. Exercise Your Ears. Networking is a give and take process. It’s great that we want to talk about ourselves the whole time, but let’s listen to what the other person has to say as well. Who are they, what do they do, what are they passionate about? This is where we find out if there’s a true connection for a future relationship.

6. Be patient.
It takes time for people to trust you and understand what value you are bringing into their personal and/ or professional space. Once trust is established, the relationship will be very rewarding.

7. Debrief ! debrief ! I mentioned earlier in this article that networking is about being strategic and having a plan. Well, if you are going to be strategic, it doesn't hurt to go back and recap on what went well and what you could possibly do better. If your goal was to meet five people and you met less than five people, what happened? Did you spend too much time talking to each person or was it that perhaps the right event for networking. By debriefing, this allows you the opportunity to enhance your skills for future networking events.

8. Prepare For the Next Time. Now that you have valuable information from the individuals that you met, how do you plan to use it? Do you sit and wait for them to call you? Research their industry, follow-up with information (personal or professional) that may be relevant to their career or something that was mentioned during the conversation. This shows that you were listening and not focused on you, but what they had to say during the conversation. This method is priceless and people will have a greater level of respect for you, because your focus was on them.