It never ceases to amaze me how few people there are that understand how to network effectively. Given how important it is to make a first impression, and how valuable our network of relationships are in our personal and professional lives, you’d think that more people would try harder to network effectively.
Well, no worries. Here are some strategies that you can employ in your 2011 networking activities, to win friends and influence people.
1) Develop a Strategic Networking Plan.
Whether your goal is to find new business opportunities or conduct an effective job search, you need to have a strategic networking plan. In the plan, your create a comprehensive profile of your target (whether its an employer, client, vendor, partner, supplier, etc.) Be as detailed as you can in your description. Include information about where they went to college (undergraduate and graduate programs), what industry associations do they belong to, what events do they attend, what conferences do they go to, what panel discussions are they going to participate in, where are they speaking/presenting at, what if any volunteer organizations do they support, what programs such as coaching/mentoring are they involved with.
You then want to create a plan on how you are going to get yourself “in front” of these people. You want to be at any and all events in your area that are attended by target clients/employers.
2) Meet People Through MeetUp.
Go to www.meetup.com and search for groups of professionals in your city/home town that share your professional interests and background and send a request to that group’s organizer requesting to join these groups. Once you are accepted, you will receive emails alerting you to when the groups plan a networking event.
3) Research Event Attendees BEFORE You Go.
Once you accept an invitation to attend an event through MeetUp, go to LinkedIn and research the other registrants, to see if they are someone you want to target at the event. If these people fall under the profile of your ideal networking target on your strategic networking plan, memorize their face and one or two key things that you are going to make a point to bring up at the event.
4) People Like You MOST When They Talk About THEMSELVES.
Have you ever gone to an event and there is someone who trolls to crowd, stopping only for a second to hand everyone their business card? You know the type, the one who looks and acts like the used car salesperson. They don’t bother to find out anything about you. How does that make you feel?
Instead, try asking those people that you researched beforehand some great probing questions like: “So, what do you hope to get out of tonight’s event?” Another great question to ask your fellow networkers is: “Can you tell me what your ideal customer (or employer, if you are using the event for job seeking) profile is?” One thing my wife has taught me after 20 years of marriage…people LOVE to talk about themselves.
Don’t spend more than 10 minutes speaking with any one person. The goal at networking events is a simple one…you want to make a connection, and find out enough just to see if you can help them. If so, ask for their business card and agree on who will take ownership of following up next, to schedule a follow up meeting.
5) Employ the “5-2-1” Rule of Thumb.
In networking you have to make an immediate impact with the people you meet. In the first five seconds, you have to say something about yourself and your personal brand that resonates with your networking peers. For example: “Hi, I’m Ethan the compassionate career coach.” The goal is to say something that makes them say: “Wow, what does that mean.”
That’s the FIVE in 5-2-1.
Your answer to that should be no more than two minutes and make them so interested that you walk away from that encounter with them saying “I have to schedule an hour to meet with that person in the next week or two.
That’s the TWO in the 5-2-1.
Then you schedule a follow up meeting either right there on the spot or you take ownership of reaching out to them later to set up that next meeting.
That’s the ONE in the 5-2-1.
So the take away is, you want to approach networking strategically, be interested in learning about other people and taking every opportunity to get better at it.