The New Networking: 8 Strategies for Building Real Relationships
Here's how to form lasting connections that can help grow your business in the modern age.
Some people make it look so effortless and easy when they engage in a new conversation. The best networkers have mastered the law of attraction. They are likable, helpful, emotionally intelligent and thoughtful.
The successful people you seek to network with likely have well-documented achievement in business and life experience. The leaders you meet who can help you most may easily pick up on when someone is enamored by the financial returns of their success. These same people will feel your authenticity when you engage them with genuine passion. Building a precious new relationship with someone that has an abundance mentality is a process. Remember, it will not happen from one meeting alone.
Following these eight strategies will help you become a more effective networker and build stronger relationships with people of influence and affluence:
1. You only get one first impression.
Energy is the most powerful force on earth. Remind yourself that you are an energy magnet and everyone will be attracted to you. Then, smile and practice it. Expect that people will like you and want to be your friend.
Giving your best introduction, and one that will make you stand out, will not happen automatically. Building relationships starts with thoughtful communication. People judge you and draw initial conclusions about who you are within seconds of meeting you. You only have one chance to make a memorable first impression. What you are in terms of job title and degrees is not as important to someone as your character and who you are.
When I was in college at Georgetown University, I practiced my elevator speech over and over again. Rather than immediately introducing myself with, "My name is Sameer Somal. I majored in finance and accounting. I am interested in a career in investment banking and asset management," I patiently waited for prospective employers and leaders to ask me to tell them about myself. I then enthusiastically responded with:
"My name is Sameer Somal, and I am a purposeful human being. Three qualities define my character. One, I have a relentless work ethic. I know I am not the smartest person in the room, but I pride myself in outworking anyone. Second, I am a lifelong learner. I believe in going to bed a little bit smarter every day, which I call the miracle of compound interest applied to knowledge. Third, I am big believer in diversity and collaboration. I know that in order to achieve the best results I need to be surrounded by others who have extraordinary strengths from which I can learn."
2. Deliver a relevant message.
Communicating a relevant message is very important. In order to do so, you must be aware of who you are talking to, what subjects you are speaking about and of course why should someone listen. Research your audience, relevant news and current events before attending. Invest your personal time to come prepared with talking points and appropriate questions. Consider connecting with attendees, conference organizers and even keynote speakers on LinkedIn with a custom message saying you are looking forward to seeing them at the event. This proactive approach will signal that you are interested and serious about their time and yours.
3. Be present and avoid multi-tasking.
It's the era of smartphones and stupid people. Isn't it ironic that technology brings us closer to people far away but takes us away from people sitting next to us? People feel welcome when they are heard and listened to. Being present in the moment is key to earning trust and respect, which is a precursor to building relationships.
4. Utilize social media effectively.
Social media platforms revolutionize how we communicate and accelerate our access to information. People may be too busy to return a phone call, but they are consistently present on social media. As such, having a representative presence is important.
Today, we can access almost anyone from a device that fits in the palm of our hand. Create a positive internet reputation for yourself and ensure you are well represented online.
5. Learn to listen, and listen to learn.
When we speak, we share what we already know. When we listen, we learn. Being a good listener is not optional, it is required to build new relationships. When meeting and communicating with new people, we often unintentionally interrupt or cut off someone we just met. Introverts have a competitive advantage here because they use their ears and mouth proportionately. As a loquacious personality, I have learned from the failures of talking too much and now benefit from this life-long opportunity for improvement. People derive happiness and satisfaction from talking about their ideas, knowledge and experience.
Networking experiments often conclude that people who listen effectively are more likable and memorable. For example, several years ago I met Randi Tolber, head of global society relations at CFA Institute. Tolber makes a practice of learning as much as she can about each new connection, especially during the first conversation. I became familiar with Tolber's excellence after friends told me they enjoyed interacting with her the most at several CFA Institute conferences and events. Tolber was often mentioned for her leadership, emotional intelligence and agreeable energy. When our paths crossed in person, I was delighted and eager to introduce myself. Tolber asked thoughtful questions and listened intently. As a result, she was memorable and likable.
6. Prepare to facilitate conversations.
We have all witnessed the awkward silence when meeting someone new. It may have been so uncomfortable that we just walked away from the conversation. This is a lost opportunity to build relationships. Be the catalyst for stimulating conversations and keeping them going with open-ended questions.
7. Quality over quantity.
Effective networking is the first step to building relationships. There is such pressure associated with going to an event where we are supposed to meet new people. We often hurry to meet and greet as many new faces as we can. There is even a positive aura and feeling of success when we collect and distribute a serious stack of business cards. Always prefer quality over quantity.
8. Always follow up.
Most of us, myself included, have brought home business cards and left them on our desks with the best of intentions. After a week, we remind ourselves we need to follow up. After a month, we may avoid thinking or even looking at them. One month later, we throw them away after sending a generic LinkedIn connection request. Meeting someone is at most 5 percent, and following up to build the relationship is the other 95 percent. If you tell someone you are going to email or call them, do it. Apply a patient process for following up with new connections.
In order to win friends and influence people, we need to earn the trust and respect of others. Networking is about giving, not getting. I have found that one of the most effective ways to earn trust is to first gain clarity on what is a qualified and helpful introduction for a new friend.