How to make meaningful connections – the art of networking

How to master networking skills and make valuable connections at events without feeling burned out? That was one of the conversations I had at the HIP Carousel was exactly about the topic of this post: Networking. Particularly about the word “work” which is part of networking, and that it is not an easy one because for many of us it means going outside the borders of our comfort zone. 

How to make it work?

The mantra is “Know your networking goals” that goes along with the question: “Who do I want to meet, and why?” The answer usually depends on which level you’d like to connect with people – whether it is an operational or a strategic level.

On the operational level are people, who like you, are in the process of building their small business or a personal brand. These are the connections who can have more of a direct impact on your business in terms of helping it grow exponentially. This is where you can find clients and customers.  

On the strategic level are the people who are further down the road – they have established businesses and operations, and if you want to expand the reach of your business, it is when you look up for somebody you can partner up with.

Buffet reception after a conference.
Learn how to make meaningful connections at live events. Master the art of networking.

The next and the most important step is to study people you want to meet at an event,  so you know how you can help them and add value. Before each event, find out who else had been invited and do background research on the other guests so that you could initiate conversations. This just boils to the point: finding out what industry they are in, researching on what challenges they might have, and thinking about the ways of how you could help to solve their problems or connect them with someone you know who could help them.

This leads to another point: Conversations

What do you want to say to people you meet at a live event? How would you start a conversation and “break the ice”? How would you introduce yourself?

Make sure to plan the following elements:

Your “Elevator Pitch” – explaining clearly what it is your company does. It is not about telling the story of your business or rambling about the features. It is a concise message that focuses on “What’s in it for them” – explaining the primary benefits your customers have by using your products, ideas, or services. 

Ask questions that get the conversation going. Compile a list of open-ended questions, like

  • How long have you been at XXX company?
  • How did you become interested in XXX industry?
  • What do you like best about what you do?
  • What are you working right now that excited you?
  • What are some of your biggest challenges?

You should always ask new contacts to tell you about a business challenge they are confronting,” says Dr. Ivan Misner, Ph.D., chairman of global networking organization BNI International. “That way, you might know someone who can help, and that’s the start of a relationship.”

In her book Lean In, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg references a time Lori Golder, a highly regarded senior director of marketing at eBay approached her asking for a job    “… I thought about telling you all of the things I’m good at and all of the things I like to do. Then I figured out that everyone was doing that. So instead, I want to ask you: What is your biggest problem, and how I can solve it?”  Asking what Facebook’s core business problem was and how she could fix it was a killer approach. Here is what Sheryl Sandberg answered: “Recruiting is my biggest problem. And, yes, you can solve it.”

Brainstorming
Keep the conversation going. For example, discuss sessions you have attended. Ask open-ended questions.

And finally, follow up with your connections

After the event, follow up with your new contacts! The sooner you follow up with them, the more likely your connections will remember you and the conversations you had at the event.

“Building a network of connections is less a matter of skill than of will. When first efforts do not bring quick rewards, we may simply conclude that networking isn’t among our talents. But networking is not a talent; nor does it require a gregarious, extroverted personality. It is a skill, one that just takes practice.” Harvard Business Review on Advancing Your Career

 

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