Some people are remarkably gifted networkers. They love making connections with and for others. They make great eye contact, listen intently and make you feel like you’re the very center of their attention (think Bill Clinton). You enjoy meeting them and they leave a lasting positive impression after they’re gone.
Other people are, frankly, terrible. They’re the ones at an event who glad-hand, elevator pitch, and half-listen as their eyes feverishly scan the room behind you for other, better prospects. They expertly waste their time and yours in the process. Instead of walking away impressed by their social acumen, you leave with an indelible imprint of their boorish behavior and a bad taste in your mouth.
There’s not a professional alive today who wouldn’t rather be a great networker--because it’s really just about being an excellent communicator and all-around good person and, truly, who wouldn’t want that?
Here’s what’s worked for me. You can call it the SOCIAL (Search, Offer, Care, Indicate, Ask, Listen) Rule.
Search for the right one, not everyone.
Networking is not shameless self-promotion to everyone you meet. It is not the professional version of shoving a flier under all the windshields in a parking lot. It’s about finding and meeting the precisely right person for your needs at the time. It involves doing a bit of legwork to identify just who that person might be. It means thinking about what you have to offer that person--not just what they can do for you.
Offer to help.
Never underestimate your own power. It’s easy to think--especially when we’re less experienced or in the presence of those much more established than we are--that we have nothing to offer. Be confident that’s almost never the case. Be humble enough to offer what you can. Sometimes it’s a perspective that you’re uniquely qualified to give. Perhaps it’s a connection you’d be glad to make. It could be as simple as forwarding an article that would make a highly relevant and useful read for the other person.
Care what others think.
No, you don’t need to change who you are--the core of yourself--to be an excellent networker. But you should care how you’re perceived. Watch for conversational cues to know when to ask a question, inject a comment or smile, say thanks, and graciously take your leave. Ask trusted friends to tell you about any verbal tics or habits that might make you seem less than professionally graceful.
Indicate your appreciation.
No one likes a fawning, obsequious toady, not even Michael Scott (“I want them sucking up to me because they genuinely love me.”). But everyone loves a person who is sincerely grateful for their time, advice, constructive criticism, etc. And it’s always a bonus when you get it in written form--some perfectly pithy email or charming handwritten note that, in just a few well-written lines, reminds the recipient exactly why they were so justified in helping you.
Listen with genuine interest.
No matter who you meet--whether it’s someone who says hello to you at an event or a person you’ve researched extensively--listen with attentive care to what they say. There is no faster or surer way to make a perfect first impression than to listen and ask smart questions. Conversely, there’s no more effective way to tank than to just wait to for your chance to talk. Look at yourself as a journalist; the best ones know that everyone has a great story to tell.
What have been your most memorable networking interactions?