Networking has a bad reputation as a superficial forum for shameless self-promotion. Yet real networking is about establishing mutually beneficial, lasting connections, one person at a time. And with my modern approach to networking, even you can shine and thrive at a board meeting, convention, or free-floating cocktail party.
Be true to you. You are better qualified to be you than anyone else. Stamp out networking advice that demands you behave in ways that drain you. Harness natural abilities as networking strengths rather than liabilities. Like to listen, not talk? Do it. Energize alone? Go for it. Prefer one-on-one conversation? Arrange it.
Less is more. Be selective. Go to fewer events and be more focused when attending – rather than dragging your weary self to every business opportunity and showing up like a networking prisoner.
Plan your first impression. Cognitive scientists say it can take up to 200 times the amount of information to undo a first impression as it takes to make one. Who has that kind of spare time? Not you! Show up with the best version of you, every time. You never know who you are meeting.
Set challenging yet achievable networking goals. Well-formed goals vary by personality. At a networking event, task yourself with meeting one or two people, not a dozen. And follow up (see my last tip for more on this).
Show don’t tell. Rather than boring others with a canned advert of how marvelous you are, demonstrate live your fabulous self. Be useful and gracious. Greet others with a warm smile and leap at every chance to be helpful.
Research. Rather than wandering cavernous expo halls at industry events, do your pre-work. Learn in advance what organizations are of particular interest. Spend more time with fewer people. Impress key targets with your knowledge of who they are and why you are a perfect match.
Listen. Ever sense that your remarks seem to just shoot off a cliff and crash to the ground? Who needs that kind of pressure? Instead focus on those around you, asking thoughtful questions. Network via a sincere interest in others rather than promoting yourself.
Give yourself a break! When your focus waivers, honor rather than suppress the urge for time away. Take a walk, head outside for a breather, jot down notes about those you’ve met, or take a few deep breaths. Restoring energy pays off much bigger dividends than pushing through without pause.
Follow-up or forget about it. People forget half of what they hear within 48 hours. Write personalized follow-up within two days or risk having your brilliant remarks erased permanently from the minds of those you wowed. If you’re not following up, you’re not networking.
Devora Zack is the author of Networking for People Who Hate Networking and President of Only Connect Consulting, Inc. She has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Forbes, Oprah.com, Fox News and more. She is an effervescent introvert, breaking stereotypes everywhere.