Written by Sofi Sommer
Networking is one of the most important skills a young professional can develop in their career. It is crucial to job searching, discovering new prospective clients, and creating connections that improve businesses and your own personal career goals as a whole. For most, however, networking is a skill that does not come naturally. Unless you are a natural-born extrovert and communicator, it can be difficult to know how to effectively present yourself in a networking environment. Listed below are 5 steps to improve your networking skills and look like a pro while doing it.
#1 Do Your Pre-Network Research
One of the most important elements of networking is research. Although there are some occasions where networking is unplanned, most of the time you will know who you are going to network with before you actually meet. In order to ensure that your networking is as successful as possible, you need to do your homework. First, have an understanding of the purpose of your meeting. Are you trying to sell a product to a prospective client? Or, are you trying to sell yourself to different companies that are looking to hire? Whatever your commitment objective is, tailor your research around it. Research the person you will be talking to on LinkedIn. Look for shared interests that could be good conversation starters. Research the company they work for and/or the specific need they are hoping to fulfill. Once you are properly educated on all of these fronts, you are prepared for the next step of networking like a natural: asking the right questions.
#2 Ask the Right Networking Questions
When networking, it is critical to ask the right questions that will keep the conversation moving in its intended direction. Try to steer clear of broad, close-ended questions that will only result in awkward silences or chaotic rabbit trails. Instead, use your research to guide the conversation. Start by getting to know the person. Ask them questions about themselves. Bring up any points of shared interest you may have uncovered during the researching step of networking. It is always important to connect with them as a person first and foremost. Then, narrow down your questions. Ask more about their company or what they do. Attempt to uncover specific needs that you will be able to draw from when you present your elevator pitch to them in Step #5.
#3 Show Genuine Interest throughout Engagement
If you follow Step #1 and #2 well, then Step #3 (showing genuine interest) should fall naturally into place. However, it is an important step to be aware of all the same. If you don’t have a genuine interest when networking with people, your interactions will almost always fall flat. This ties back to why the research and question stages are so important. If you do the research and use this research to ask the right questions, the conversation will naturally progress in a direction you can better engage with. However, even if you are not interested, it is still important to look it. This is one of the many reasons why “body language” is central to networking.
#4 Networking Body Language
Networking requires meeting new people. Be the first to initiate by walking confidently up to people and introducing yourself with a smile and a strong handshake. Be aware of your eye contact throughout your conversation. Being able to maintain eye contact without flitting your eyes around nervously/distractedly is a rare gift today. So, if you nail your eye contact, you will immediately captivate someone’s attention. Likewise, be aware to not fidget while networking. Instead, when engaging with others, don’t be afraid to use your hands while you speak. Instead of keeping your arms crossed and closed off, use gestures that are open and inviting. This not only makes you appear more approachable but makes you a more interesting and engaging person to talk to. Lastly, be consistent. Treat everyone, no matter who they are, with respect and kindness. If you do this, you will not only make those around you feel good but will hopefully engage them in a way that keeps them wanting to talk to you more: the key to successful networking.
#5 Perfect Your Networking Elevator Pitch
The final stage of networking like a natural is to know your “elevator pitch.” When someone asks you to tell them more about yourself and what you do, it is important to not stumble over your words or ramble. Instead, take some time to think through common questions people might ask about you or your company beforehand. Then, figure out the clearest and most concise way to answer these questions in under 2 minutes. After completing all of the above stages, you should also have a general idea of what the person you are networking with is looking for. Based on this knowledge, you can tie in and highlight elements of yourself or your company that will be of most interest to them.
Closing Thoughts on Networking
If you follow the steps above, you should finally be able to network like a natural. This simple guideline will allow you to not only feel more prepared when networking but will also help ensure you leave having had genuine interactions with people.
For more information on networking, be sure to check out “5 Tips to Improve Networking Skills and Grow Your Career”: https://www.sophisticatedprofessional.com/success/5-tips-to-improve-networking-skills-and-grow-your-career/
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