I’m a big fan of best practices and a fan of networking, on which subjects I have blogged before and will almost certainly blog again in the future[i]. But until now, I haven’t thought to address the subject of networking best practices—which means I’m probably way overdue.
A lot of people hear the word “networking” and get a mental picture of that guy. You know the one I mean. He shows up at networking events and by the time you’re onto the second sentence of answering his question, you can see his head swivel as he figures out whom to talk with next. The one who’s all smiles and when you go to shake his hand, hands you his business card. The one that when he follows up afterwards, isn’t listening: he’s only broadcasting.
Yeah, I’m talking about that guy. The thing is, a lot of folks think that guy is the ultimate expression of “networking”. We might even, when saying this face to face with another person, use “air quotes” around the word networking.
And that’s incredibly sad, because that isn’t what networking has to be.
What networking really needs to be about is forging an authentic connection with another person[ii]. It requires being present and actually caring what someone else is saying. Because it’s only when you’re engaged in that exchange that you’ll see opportunities to connect on something more than a fleeting, superficial level.
So with that in mind, I’d like to share a few networking best practices. There are four elements to it but ultimately, it all boils down to one word: GIVE.
Be open to offering assistance—whether emotional support, a connection or some missing information. It doesn’t cost you very much at all. While there are going to be occasions when there’s nothing you can offer to someone you’ve just met beyond perhaps a sympathetic ear, what that person will remember is that when you met, you tried to find ways to be of assistance. And that may be more powerful than anything else you might offer.
You can’t really connect with someone if you aren’t interested in what they are saying. How else are you going to perceive opportunities to be generous if you aren’t interested in seeing them? Our perceptions shape our reality. If we are not open to possibilities we will not see them, will not act on them and hence de facto, they don’t exist to us.
When you say something, be sure you are adding value to the conversation or somehow addressing what the other person is saying. The fastest way to ensure that your first conversation with someone will also be your last is to fail to add value. People form a first impression within 30 seconds so make sure the one you leave is one of which you can be proud.
Reverse the situation: if you were in that person’s situation, what would be the critical information or insight you could provide that you’d really appreciate? For example: if someone you’ve met mentions that they never sleep well on hotel beds, and that’s why they keep yawning, why not suggest a solution that’s worked for you? Maybe a sleep mask, or earplugs, or a white noise generator are just what he or she needs to conquer that problem. Wouldn’t you appreciate that suggestion if your positions were reversed? I know I would!
Sure, people talk about the importance of good first impressions, how failure to follow up after the meeting is the same as never having met someone in the first place, etc., but the truth is that if you genuinely are engaged and interested in an authentic connection with someone…you’ll make a good first impression and you’ll absolutely follow up afterwards. You will be generous, show interest, add value and empathize.
If you’re genuinely interested, you won’t be able to help yourself: you’ll GIVE.