Effective Networking Requires Mastering These 5 Skills

Good networking is a learned skill, and all entrepreneurs have made mistakes with their networking at some point.

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By John Boitnott

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If you struggle with approaching other business professionals and finding the right things to say, it may be because you don't yet know how to network. Effective networking requires particular skills, and most people aren't born knowing the best ways to build meaningful connections with other entrepreneurs. If you master these skills, you'll be able to leverage networking for what it is – a powerful tool that can open up future opportunities and help to build your business.

Networking isn't intuitive. After all, how many times have you received blanket LinkedIn connection requests with generic messages or no messages at all? Or maybe you've been approached by people at events who pitched their services right away? Networking done poorly is ineffective and off-putting, and you've probably encountered many people who don't know how to do it right.

It takes effort.

Some successful entrepreneurs seem like natural networkers, and it's clear they've mastered this art. They're engaging, confident and often ask insightful questions. Understanding how to network isn't always intuitive, though. Many businesspeople and entrepreneurs are introverted. Few of us are born with natural networking skills, but with a little effort you can learn how to network.

At its basic level, networking is an activity that makes many people uncomfortable. To network effectively, you have to reach out to people you don't know, which means putting yourself outside of your comfort zone. In-person networking involves a real-time conversation, which adds pressure and requires you to think and react quickly.

Related: The Right Way to Network on Social Media

It reaps dividends both financial and personal.

But you don't have to live in fear of networking. Done well, building your network is a valuable investment in yourself and in your business. Plus, developing the ability to approach and talk with people in a meaningful way won't just improve your business, but can also give you more confidence and better people skills in your everyday life.

High level networkers succeed because they have particular skills. You can practice and develop these skills to make connecting with others easier and more enjoyable.

These five skills make connecting simple and natural.

1. Planning

Take the time to perfect your elevator pitch and always carry business cards, even when you're just running errands. The more prepared you are, the easier and smoother networking will be.

Related: Even Introverts Can Excel at Networking by Following These Steps

2. Active listening

Good listening skills can help you to make valuable connections, but this can be difficult, especially when you're networking in busy, loud places. Work on being a good, active listener by maintaining eye contact, paying attention, and responding with insightful, relevant questions.

3. Strategic question asking

Learning to ask good questions takes time, but it's a valuable skill for networking. I try to practice it regularly. It can actually be fun because everyone enjoys the conversation more. Use active listening skills to ask questions that build on what the other person is saying. This demonstrates you're genuinely interested in their ideas. Don't be afraid to get creative with your questions, and try to move past the standard questions that people probably hear regularly.

4. Focusing on the other person

It's all too tempting to talk about ourselves. However, if you reach out to connect with someone, you need to make the conversation about them. It's fine to talk a bit about yourself, but then turn the conversation focus back to the other person – and definitely don't try to sell anything during your first conversation. Trust me, if they like you and are interested in what you have to offer, sales will take care of itself.

Related: How to Display the Ideal Body Language When Networking

5. Adding value

This is sometimes the most difficult skill to master. Think about ways you can offer value to others through your knowledge, skills, or even through your connections. Understanding the value you offer can help you establish mutually beneficial relationships.

Every successful entrepreneur once learned how to network. Few entrepreneurs are born knowing how to network. Good networking is a learned skill, and all entrepreneurs have made mistakes with their networking at some point. More important, though, is that they've learned from their mistakes, refined their techniques, and mastered the art of networking.

If you'd like to do the same, try these steps.

  • Identify which of the above skills you're weak in or lacking, and then spend some time developing and practicing them.

  • Hold mock conversations with friends so you can practice active listening and asking intelligent questions.

  • Ask your friends for feedback on how you're communicating.

  • Watch exceptional networkers in action and see how they approach others, handle conversations, and make meaningful connections.

  • Incorporate those same techniques in your engagements.

Networking will be difficult, especially when you first start. But, the more that you do it, the better you'll become and the easier it will be. Just like any business skill, it will take some time to master. Learning to network is well worth the time and energy it will take, and it's a talent that you'll use throughout your life.

John Boitnott

Entrepreneur Leadership Network VIP

Journalist, Digital Media Consultant and Investor

John Boitnott is a longtime digital media consultant and journalist living in San Francisco. He's written for Venturebeat, USA Today and FastCompany.

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