via Forbes: According to a 2015 survey, 85% of critical jobs are filled through networking. If networking is so important for business success, why are so many people intimidated or confused about how to network?
What is networking anyway? How many conferences have you been to where you couldn’t remember who was who or whose business card you had or you felt guilty for later tossing those cards into your desk drawer? That’s because what you’re doing isn’t really networking or connecting — it’s what I call, “thoughtless cultivating,” and it has limited value, if any. And given how competitive the current job market is, you need to stand out for others to know you as an individual. This article will help you avoid thoughtless cultivating and get the most from networking.
Networking on purpose is about authentic connection. It’s part of relationship building. Networking is visibility development, and visibility is smart for growing companies or job seekers. Networking can help business development — it’s an offshoot of being visible and being a good listener. Some of the best deals I created were simply due to listening to a potential customer or partner. They share their pain points, and then you help them.
If you’re not sure what to say when you’re networking, look for common ground, and find out what’s interesting or important to the other person. Having a hard time coming up with something? Try some conversation starters: “Are you working on any exciting projects?” “What type of customers are you looking for?” Feel free to try something a bit more personal. A question like “Where did you find that gorgeous pin?” not only leads you to discover that you both love antique jewelry (common ground), but it also tells the other person that you’re someone who notices the details. The standard “What does your company/organization do?” question has limited interest, so practice your one-sentence pitch, and make it memorable. Most people don’t listen beyond the first sentence because they’re gearing up for their response. Try something like “We are passionate about …” or “We take on only the most futuristic jobs.”
When you make a positive connection, follow up with a handwritten note, or share an article or book you think your new contact might enjoy. You never know if this contact will become a partner, client, employee, boss, mentor or friend.
Body language is critical to networking on purpose. Don’t slouch. Standing tall and feeling confident is important for anyone searching for a new career or new business opportunities. I’ve found that people enjoy doing business with powerful and confident people and that slouching only reinforces feelings of powerlessness. Try a simple experiment: Try purposely slouching, and then take a second to note how you feel. Now stand up straight. Notice the difference?
Start today to make a shift — take a dance class, practice yoga or simply try touching your shoulder blades together several times a day. Practice walking tall and doing posture exercises and “power poses.” Social psychologist Amy Cuddy’s research indicates that when we strike expansive poses — think Wonder Woman with feet apart and hands on hips — we feel more confident and powerful. I’ve found that power posing, meditation — even short five-minute meditations — and deep breathing can calm and focus the mind and help me feel more clear and confident in stressful situations.
Appearance is also important when networking. Many studies have been conducted that indicate that first impressions are made not in seconds but in milliseconds of seeing a person. When I attend conferences and seminars, I notice many professionals wearing clothes that simply don’t fit well. To look and feel your best, wear only fitted and well-tailored clothes. You don’t have to wear expensive clothes, but you do need to wear clothes that fit your body well. Get sleeves hemmed if they’re too long. Sleeves that are too long make people look slouchy (even if you’re standing tall), and a $1,200 Chanel jacket or Armani suit could look like a discount store special if the sleeves don’t fit. A 2013 study found that men wearing made-to-measure suits were rated higher in confidence, success, trustworthiness, flexibility and salary than men wearing off-the-rack suits that differed only in minor details.
When my clients feel at a loss for words when meeting new people, I ask them to imagine that their heart is smiling. Yes, imagine a huge smiling emoji embroidered on your shirt. Doing this focuses your attention on your heart instead of your head, and it gives you a more calm, peaceful and approachable demeanor. You’ll be amazed at how many unsolicited smiles and introductions you receive in return.
So get out of the house or the office, stand tall, meditate for five minutes, breathe deeply, wear well-fitting clothes and be the conduit for building purposeful and authentic relationships. You’ll be much more likely to get a new job or potentially land deals. If you’re looking for a new job, get clear on what you do well, what you like to do and what you can offer, and be confident in expressing your career desires or call to action. Can the person you just met while networking make a call or broker an introduction for you? Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Connecting with others doesn’t mean you should be the loudest person in the room, but it does mean you should bring your authentic and confident self to every conversation. Be visible at company events or career-specific groups, panels and strategic seminars. Accept board seats or committee positions only if you feel passionate about the mission and you’re valued in return. This puts you in thoughtful and purposeful networking territory.