How to network
How to network? We all know the old adage that says: “It’s not what you know but who you know”.
Our network is an invaluable asset, especially in the professional world. After all, your network is your net worth. An ever-growing list of contacts is crucial. It is an imperative skill to mingle with colleagues, fit into a group of strangers, meet clients and master the art of conversation. This is why it is so important to learn how to network.
There are now more and more opportunities to build relationships –online and offline. If building a network has for example slowly evolved with the rise of social networks, a face-to-face networking is still unavoidable.
Imagine going to a networking event. We all hate entering a room where we know absolutely no one.
- How to approach people?
- How to keep the conversation going?
- How to feel more at ease in networking events?
- How to broaden your networks?
There are no real step-by-step guidelines on how to network. Each situation is different and every person has their own personality. But one thing we can say is that it’s better to network as often as possible, adapt to the situation, and slowly get better at handling social gatherings.
So what usually happens when we network?
During any networking events, most of us end up with the following situations:
- We sit in a corner, enjoying our food and then we walk away without having talked to anyone.
- Sometimes we have a deep conversation but it doesn’t really bring us any value.
- And finally, we spend our whole time with friends we already know and often see.
None of the previous situations broadened our network. Remember that these events were created to get to meet new people. Knowing how to network effectively opens new doors for us.
How to network: reciprocity rule by Robert Cialdini
Reciprocity governs our society. It really is a tangible social norm. Reciprocity refers to our natural behavior of returning a favor when someone grants us one. Otherwise, we might be seen as a taker, profiteer and selfish. We even risk rejection from society as we are categorized as egoistic.
The rule is simple: if I do you one favor, you owe me another one. It is such a deeply ingrained behavior that we accept it as normal.
We force ourselves to pay our debts and it is considered normal to feel “indebted” when someone gives us something. Therefore, it can be used in influence.
Applied to networking, a potential collaborator may agree to meet you again if you invite that person for lunch or for a coffee.
When we understand reciprocity, we also know that “there is no such thing as something for nothing”. Young enthusiastic people think that an experienced entrepreneur will help them for free. But oftentimes, we must ask ourselves “what we should give in return” Only then would you have a chance to get the entrepreneur’s attention.
Give and take by Adam Grants
In his book “Give and take”, Adam Grant suggests that “Every time we interact with another person at work, we have a choice to make: do we try to claim as much value as we can, or do we contribute value without worrying about what we receive in return?”
Grant highlights 3 categories of people based on that choice.
– We have “takers” who are the people who try to get value as much as possible”.
– Then we have “givers” who are the opposite. These are people who don’t always speculate what’s in it for them.
– Most of us are however “matchers” as we constantly monitor a right balance between giving and taking. Matchers help others but also make sure that it’s a fair exchange.
Adam Grant later supports that the most successful people are givers. Giving can be a powerful strategy as long as we don’t give freely, all the time, risking a burn out. The point is to give deliberately in a sensible, subtle and intentional way.
In a nutshell, good guys don’t always finish last. If we sometimes apprehend giving too much during a networking event, just remember that giving leads to success.
The secret on how to network: Awaken the dormant tie
Networking doesn’t only consist of meeting new people. We can also reconnect with our former contacts. It can be old colleagues, friends at university and other people we fell out of contact with. By definition, these people are called “dormant ties”.
Most of us would find no real value in reconnecting with people we haven’t seen for years. After all, why would we want to contact them right? Wrong.
In their book “Dormant Ties: The Value of Reconnecting”; Levin and Jorge Walter conducted an experiment with over two hundred executives. The latter had to reconnect with old colleagues they haven’t seen for a minimum of three years. Each executive consulted two former colleagues and sought advice.
Besides their dormant ties, the executives also approached current colleagues and evaluated their different answers. Surprisingly, it turned out that the dormant ties gave much more value in their answers. Some of the old ties were thrilled to reconnect again and they enthusiastically and thoroughly replied to their former colleagues. Indeed, your network is your net worth. Do not forget to reactivate your dormant ties.
Ask questions and listen carefully
During a conversation, prefer open questions to yes/no questions. These questions leave room for more elaborate answers. When you listen, you give importance to the person and she might like you even more.
Another variant is to seek advice. Humans love to contribute and it helping others creates more happiness for us. We all want to feel important and feel useful.
As you start a new project, a more experienced entrepreneur would –for example- love to share their personal stories.
I know quite a few entrepreneurs who love storytelling. Sharing their stories reminds them of their past struggles and gives them pride. I love to hear inspiring and personal sharing like these.
As you listen, write down their shared anecdotes. You can include these tales in a future email which also demonstrates that you listened carefully to what they said.
How to network?
Here are a few tips you might consider at social gatherings:
- Prepare your pitch in advance
- Try absolutely to remember people’s names. When someone approaches you and say their first name, you can repeat it again and again –but naturally- so you can remember it (Nice to meet you, Simon).
- Have self-confidence
- Have an open attitude by smiling, shaking firm hands and look frankly in the eyes.
- Smile. We would perceive you differently if you enter a room all enthusiastic.
- Share your network with your contacts
- Make a good first impression. It’s all about your attitude but also in the way you are dressed.
- Dress in a way you want to be perceived.
- Start new projects and pitch your ideas to the people you meet. You can definitely become more interesting to others when you start projects.
- Reactivate within 2 days: when you receive a business card, write down all specific elements during the conversation. You can use them when you send an email to your new contact.
- Learn public speaking
Should you go to the bathroom?
Do not be afraid of ending a conversation. Thank the person for the pleasant exchange. This is also the opportunity to exchange business cards or contact. Leaving a conversation makes sense if a person monopolizes the whole discussion and when it goes nowhere. It’s far better to look for other opportunities than staying stuck there. Briefly apologize and try to engage with other people. It is easier to end a conversation if you are the first who approached.
You can discover new people or reconnect with those you haven’t met for a long time. We can find job opportunities or new collaborators. As an entrepreneur, it is also the occasion to pitch your idea, to initiate projects and eventually get another appointment in the future. How can we feel more at ease in networking events? What are the techniques to adopt?
Networking can be viewed as the art of building relationships with people. It is a mutual exchange since these people can help us develop our career or launch a project. Let’s learn to network!