We have all been in that position where we are asked to speak to strangers, and more often than not, we end up feeling stressed and nervous about such encounters. When we enter the room and watch people converse with each other, the only thought that comes into our mind is “Oh! It seems like they already know each other so well. What am I doing here?”. The awkwardness that we experience in such moments makes us drink our wine in the corner of the room, all by ourselves. Sometimes, we even feel out of place and want to go back home to our comfortable space.
"If networking were a human, you would fall in love with it." Sarah Wagner
From the outside, networking might seem superficial, boring or intimidating. Worse, for many people, networking feels like a burden that is to be avoided at all costs. Many feel uncomfortable while attempting to network. To some, it may seem like an unethical and unilateral transaction: asking for something without giving anything in return. To appreciate the benefits of networking, you need to recognise its importance and long-term value. It’s nothing less than a change of mindset: Networking can open doors to new worlds and ways of thinking. It can deepen your knowledge and ability to innovate. It is far more than just sipping champagne at a reception and should be strategically planned and executed accordingly. It’s a skill that can and should be learned. Yet, it is a skill we are neither taught in school nor university.
By approaching networking events with the right mindset, you can master an event successfully and with joy. With this blog post, we show you why and how you should prioritise your networking skills.
The value of a strong and trusted network
Time is money. We’ve all heard that. What we want to make you realise is how to utilise your time and make it valuable enough during networking. One would state that networking would mean building connections. We don’t deny that but would like to add that networking means building valuable and long-lasting connections.
No matter what your views are regarding networking, it’s an essential tool to help you progress in your career. It’s an acquired skill, and yet, despite networking holding such a high value, it is not a skill that is a part of our modern-day curricula. This makes us underestimate its worth and we often tend to avoid it. However, a strong network opens doors to many resources, which in turn help you to enhance your skills portfolio and also provides you with access to multiple career opportunities.
But how do you do it? How can you reach out to people and start building your network? Here are a few tips to pursue early on in your career or even already at university:
Ask your friends and family members to connect with their colleagues or other valuable contacts.
Go to LinkedIn and use it as a networking tool to reach out to many people in your (aspired) profession.
Our website, UnleashToday.com gives you exposure to multiple contacts to get you started in your career.
Make sure to send personalised contact requests. You’d be surprised as to how many people appreciate personalised connection requests and to what extent the extra effort pays off. It increases your chances of being accepted and starting a conversation. In your contact request, you should clarify why you are reaching out, for instance, that you would like to inquire about a certain company or industry or the professional background of that specific person.
Change your mindset: Overcoming your networking aversion
There are two kinds of mindsets: the promotion and prevention mindset. The ones belonging to the former group tend to see the potential that networking can bring to the table regarding the growth of a person. The ones belonging to the latter group tend to believe that networking is something that they’re forced to be a participant of, as an obligation they need to fulfil. Now take a moment to think about which category you fall into. Write down an example to show how you came to this conclusion.
Try not to think of networking as an immediate transaction, but rather focus on getting to know who you’re speaking to and identify common interests. Building long-term relationships will determine what you could offer the other person in the future. If you just think about what you can gain from the other person, you won’t get very far.
Keep in mind that most people are focused on themselves in conversations. Therefore, you should make sure you ask questions about them and acknowledge their responses. But what questions should you ask? We all have had moments in which we struggle to come up with a compelling question. This is why we like to use the FORD model*. This stands for Family, Occupation, Relax, and Deep.
The key is to actively listen and show genuine interest in the other person. Articulate things clearly and be engaging. Make people want to notice you. But how do you do that?? No worries, we have it covered for you. Here are a few things to keep in mind in order to project yourself as someone who seems engaging and confident:
Posture, eyes, and smile
Energy and attitude
Mirroring their responses
Repeating their name
Do you want to learn more about how to master the art of networking? These are a few things that you can do to make sure that you have a good network and build long-lasting connections with people. The blog is just an introduction to the variety of tips that our book Unleash Today provides you with. Be sure to get your own copy to become a networking star! You can get your copy on various Amazon stores (e.g. UK, DE, FR).
Shivani Nair is Unleash Today's Content Strategist based in Ahmedabad, India.
*The FORD model was developed by leadership and communication speaker Chris Helder. For more information, read Helder, C. (2013) The Ultimate Book of Influence, Wiley.