6 Ways to Become a Better Networker
Your skill at starting a conversation with a complete stranger is one that can help you build meaningful relationships and boost your career. Or it can be a weakness that limits you both professionally and personally.
More often than not, success starts with a great first interaction. In fact in one survey of over 59,000 professionals, 41 percent said they landed a job thanks to their existing network.
Of course, being a good networker is a skill, and a tricky one at that: hence why there are so many awkward pauses at networking events, and discarded business cards afterwards.
The key, perhaps, is to stop thinking of this act as just a tool to climbing the career ladder. Sure, it can help you land your dream job, but a smart networker views it as something more human: a chance to delve into a rewarding conversation for its own sake. So think interaction, not transaction. Sometimes it’s okay to come back from an event with more stories than email addresses.
Here are a few tips to alter your thinking around the topic.
1. CHANGE YOUR PERCEPTION: BE A GIVER
The energy you give off may be more palpable than you realise — Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella famously said, “the energy you create around you is perhaps going to be the most important attribute — in the long run EQ trumps IQ. Without being a source of energy for others very little can be accomplished.”
Humans are intuitive beings, so if you go into a conversation focused on getting something from another person, chances are they will know it. That can manifest in a subconscious block to your relationship before it even begins. So cultivate a ‘giving’ mentality at every interaction: offer useful contacts to people, or send LinkedIn contacts articles that might pique their interest.
To make networking seem less like a transaction, it can help to share personal stories and goals. As Achim Nowak, author of Infectious: How to Connect Deeply and Unleash the Energetic Leader Within writes, “When we reveal something personal, it gives your listener permission to do the same […] the more risks we take in being vulnerable, the more people are drawn to us because we seem real.”
2. TOPICS: GO DEEP, NOT BROAD
Knowing many tiny snippets of a person’s life is nowhere near as meaningful as understanding one main aspect. So the next time you start a conversation, try digging a little deeper before skipping to the next topic. Everyone likes to be told, “That’s fascinating, tell me more!”
How do you know you have found the right topic? If you see a distinct change in demeanour, a shift in body language and a flicker of excitement, you have hit the magic spot.
3. BE AN EYE-CATCHER
The problem with black tie events is, well, everyone wears a black tie or Little Black Dress — and thus tends to blend in. So even small touches can make you stand out: Mickey Mouse cufflinks or a rainbow purse perhaps. Better still is if your item has a great story behind it — did your daughter make your earrings, perhaps? That way you are carrying around your instant icebreaker.
4. DON’T ASK THE SAME OLD QUESTIONS
Approaching someone and asking ‘What do you do?’ is like asking them to be bored from the get-go. You don’t want to be the forgettable person who asks the same old questions — but you can jazz them up to be more exciting. Instead of asking what they do, say “I’m going to guess what you do. Give me three guesses, okay?”
5. DON’T SQUANDER YOUR TIME
If you absolutely have to put your ‘business mode’ cap on, then come to events with a goal in mind — like making contacts within your industry, or finding a potential new hire. To accomplish that goal, don’t just speak to the same two people all night. If you get stuck in conversation, introduce that chatterbox to someone near you: then swiftly make your exit. Nor should you shake hands with every attendee. Instead, think like a chess player: make tactical moves that improve your position.
6. PREP LIKE A DETECTIVE
If you are attending an event that produces a publically available RSVP list, research the attendees and look up the people you found interesting. Having researched them, you already have a conversation point that flatters their ego (“When I saw you were an attendee I had to come up and ask about the book you have just released”).