Networking. It's everyone's top business tip and we all know how important it is, but how do we maximize our networking ability to achieve the greatest benefit?
For one, you could ban the boring small talk entirely, which science has proven will lead to great conversations at networking events.
Or simply keep your hand free (to shake hands), and study other people's body language (if you're the observing, analytical type).
But heck, don't take it only from me (full disclosure: Most of my networking happens after I hop off a speaker's stage and mingle with the audience). Let's bring in a real expert: Dr. Tina Bacon-DeFrece, President of Big Frog Custom T-Shirts and More.
After spending time as a successful research director for a multi-million-dollar, scientific instrument company for five years, Tina (a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering) decided to try entrepreneurship by parlaying this experience into starting the Big Frog concept and servicing a large, unserved niche market.
The Big Frog brand has since grown to a national franchise network spanning 90 locations across the United States. And as Tina shared the strategies with me, networking has been quite instrumental to her success.
Here are five networking strategies to keep in your back pocket next time you venture out into the wild networking frontier, courtesy of Dr. Tina Bacon-DeFrece:
1. Start networking when you don't feel you need to.
Most people attend networking events with a personal agenda, and there is no shame in that. However, coming into any networking event with nothing but an ulterior motive or the sense of desperation can rub people the wrong way. Rather, it is best to begin networking when you are in a mindset that is more generous and less self-serving, creating a more engaging experience for everyone.
2. Be genuinely curious about those you talk to.
You're not there to sell--you're there to make honest human connections so drop the act and leave your elevator speech at the door. We all come into network events as professionals, but it's important to realize we have lives outside of work. If the right opportunity arises, feel free to bring the conversation toward something not work-related. You may be able to find a shared interest and spark an opportunity further along the road.
3. Adopt a localized networking mentality.
Networking within your community and industry allows greater opportunities to connect with people again. When making connections with people in a localized mindset, it's important to treat your connections as people you would want to follow-up with. Be sure to actually do that when the time is right!
4. Practice active listening.
Treat every conversation as an opportunity to learn, rather than an opportunity to teach or pitch yourself. Engage with others to understand their professional situation, desired goals and objectives.
5. Figure out how to be useful.
If you promised to make an introduction or help someone in any way possible during your networking, make sure to commit the time to actually do so. People are busy, but there is no harm in making an email introduction or phone call to build a bridge. If you commit to what you say during a networking event, others will perceive you as someone they can trust and build a relationship with.