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When It Comes to Networking, Don't Try to Wing It

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A man and a woman walk into a conference social hour with the same goal: to meet people and set up potential referrals. Can you guess who does better?

Our research shows women have an edge over men when it comes to networking. The reason: Women are better prepared.

We surveyed 12,000 business people over four years and found women were more likely to read books about networking, take seminars or classes, find mentors, or participate in networking groups. As for men, many said their main strategy was teaching themselves how to network. The men didn't seek outside help as often.

Both men and women overwhelmingly believed networking played a key role in their success. But among those who said it had not, nearly two-thirds were men.

Related: Networking With the Opposite Sex

Women meanwhile actually achieved more referrals and overall better results from their networking than men -- and took less time to do it.

Women are relatively new to networking because they only made it into executive positions in recent decades. Women have a different style; they're much less likely to brag than men. They are also better at preparing to network because the business side of networking is something that they often have to go out and learn. With more women in the business world than ever, it's a necessary skill, too. 

Here's what any executive, a man or a woman, should be doing to become a better networker:

Study up on things your business associates like. Best-selling author Susan RoAne reads the sports pages every day -- even though she absolutely hates sports. Why? She says it's because groups of men always talk about sports when she's at networking events. She doesn't want to be left out of the conversation. Many men, though, come across women talking about gardens or child-rearing and say, "Really, are you serious?" Men need to man up, for crying out loud, and be comfortable jumping in the conversations women are having -- or any other subject matter that may seem out of their league at first.

Related: Do Chamber Meetings Still Beat LinkedIn for Networking?

Learn how to build a relationship. Being willing to have conversations outside your comfort zone is just one step toward relationship building. Who scored the best in terms of generating business in our survey? It was anyone who focused on relationships first. The thing is that women are a little better at it than men. They tend to listen and ask questions more, and that's what people in general should do when they network. You have two ears and one mouth. Use them proportionally.

Books -- read them. People who immerse and engage in a of learning will me more successful than those that don't. People get out of college and think their has ended. If you're good at what you're doing, it hasn't ended. It has begun. Books are a great way to reduce the and learn from other people's mistakes. That's especially true with networking. Networking Like a Pro is a good networking primer, and our recent and Sex (Not What You Think) book could help, too. So could Bob Burg's Endless Referrals and Susan RoAne's How to Work a Room.

Get some training. Executives often have access to networking training offered through their employers, including the chance to go to events sponsored by groups such as the local chamber of commerce or business networking organizations. The funny thing about it is that many never go. Do your homework, though, when hiring a training organization or a networking coach. Ask what they did before they started coaching, what books and training methods they use. Study them in action at networking events, and ask for referrals.

Do half of these things, and you will be well on your way to becoming a great networker.

Related: Forget Networking. How to Be a Connector

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