Networking skills have become so important in today's careers, and it's not something you are likely to learn about in school.
Instead of trial and error, try these networking skill tips from my NYC Business Coaching program, and improve your skill-set. An investment that can have a high return on investment in the future.
1) Be Specific Where You Choose to Spend Your Networking Time and Dollars
It's easy to take the "throw it against the wall and see what sticks approach" which leaves you with dirty walls and no money in your pocket.
Where are your decision makers either hanging out, or people who know people who have access to their decision makers? Who is your demographics and where do they frequently go to create business connections? Do the research first, so you don't waste your time and money.
2) Follow Up is EVERYTHING
I was in an elevator with a woman who while lovely, charismatic and clearly energetic was all over the place. She was bragging about going to 4-6 networking events per week. She mused calling herself the "Networking Goddess." When I asked her what percentage of the people that she meets, does she follow-up with, she looked away and said, "That's my next step, following up." I looked her in the eye and said, "Do yourself a favor, take off the next two weeks from going places and take that time to dismantle that huge stack of cards and do something with them, or throw them all out, and start from scratch but with a clear intention."
Allocate a time every week, to comb through your new contacts, do some research, and get clear how and why you should get in touch with that person then create a plan. It may be sending them an article that is interesting to them, or may be. Or invite them into Linked In and look at their contacts, and once you feel a rapport with them, ask for an introduction, that's a far better use of your time.
3) Networking is About Building Meaningful and Strategic Relationships, Not Looking for a Handout
It seems so blatantly obvious but true that most networkers do the rolling resume syndrome where they go on and on about themselves and judge the success by how many cards they handed out and miss the point. The more strategic your network the bigger the pay off, financially and fulfillment wise. Go with a spirit of generosity of what you can provide and offer, but also, feel free to make requests for introductions and referrals when the time is right. If it comes out of nowhere, with no relationships, people often feel used and put upon.
4) Have Fun and Your Golden
I learned this first hand about a year ago. I was at this fabulous female professional networking breakfast, and we were all kidding around, and I just went with it, and broke into song and did a silly little dance. One of the women mused, "You need your own TV show?" to which I said, "You're psychic, because I've been wanting to do much more TV, most of my media is through magazines and on-line." The next day she gave me a solid introduction which has lead to a recurring TV Show expert spot.
Now granted, breaking into song and dance may not be your style and if the event didn't have a casual playful feel to it, I never would have done it, but I went with the moment and had fun. Being fun and upbeat when it's real, is very contagious, and people want to be around fun, engaging people, especially in a networking environment which can be fraught with shyness and vulnerability.
5) Less is More
It's better to come away from an event with two cards of people you really connected with, rather than 20 you'll never follow up. Again, be specific and strategic, but also have fun, and see it as an opportunity to make new connections and meet interesting people and you will find networking to be a very enlivening process. Honor your networking style if you're a social media maven, then that's your best outlet, or a more in-person or event-driven person, navigate your networking in that area.
Lois Barth is a human development expert with more than 20 years experience as a Motivational Speaker, Coach, Trainer and industry expert. She helps people close the gap between where they are and where they want to be, so they can thrive both personally and professionally. She is a regular source expert for the Wall Street Journal, and the "Stress Less...Thrive More" Lady for CT Style (ABC Affiliate).