Networking events — as social as a dinner party or as buttoned-up as an industry conference — are the ultimate opportunities to put the best version of yourself out there in an effort to form meaningful connections with other people.
Here’s how to keep people inside or outside of your industry interested in what you have to say when you meet for the very first time.
Really listen to the other person
It’s easy to tell when someone isn’t focused on getting to know you or your story — their eyes dart, and it often feels like they’re looking right through you.
Don’t be that person.
Instead, try “empathetic listening,” writes Christina DesMarais in an Inc. article that includes networking advice “for introverts, extroverts, and the socially awkward.” She describes it as trying to see things from the perspective of whom you’re talking to with the intention of gaining information about them.
She also features advice from Jacqueline Whitmore, etiquette expert and author of Poised for Success: Mastering the Four Qualities That Distinguish Outstanding Professionals.
When you ask the person a question, listen…with the intent to understand and also to establish a connection with that person, because people tend to remember people they have a connection with.
Don’t be a “card dealer” . . .
In other words, don’t move too quickly. Moving from person to person in a hurry probably won’t help you earn their respect or keep their attention.
Ivan Misner identifies types of “desperate networkers” in an Entrepreneur article. The “Card Dealer” is among them.
After saying that this type is likely “the most common form of desperation” he’s encountered, he mentions that this networker quickly gives out business cards “like he’s at a poker table” and does not really connect with people unless he thinks there’s something in it for him. Misner continues:
To the Card Dealer, networking is mostly a numbers game. The more people he can pass his cards to, the better he’s doing (or so he thinks). Card Dealers tend to have a network that is a mile wide but an inch deep because they don’t spend time building relationships. It never works in the long run and they just look inexperienced, frazzled and yes — desperate.
. . . but do hold the cards yourself
In a Harvard Business Review article, Dorie Clark, who says she’s “hosted more than two dozen dinner parties” to expand her “network and meet interesting people,” writes that you should seek to “become the center of the network.”
She cites the example of Jon Levy, who began throwing “‘Influencers’ dinner gatherings” at his apartment in New York City with “luminaries in different fields,” and offers a strategy.
Clark says to start by inviting “the most interesting professionals you know” and request that they suggest the most interesting connections they have.
“Over time you can build a substantial network,” she writes. “At a certain point you’ll gain enough momentum that professionals who have heard about the dinners will even reach out to ask for an invitation.”
Be a resource for others
Providing someone else with what they need is a good way to prove the value of your new connection.
A Monster article mentions that you should “respond to others’ challenges.” “There’s no better way to establish a business networking relationship” than by helping them with a “pressing” issue, the articles states.
If someone states a challenge that they’re facing, respond—no later than the next morning—with something of value that addresses their issue,’ says John Felkins, president of Accelerant Consulting Group, an organizational development consultancy in Bartlett, Tennessee.
And who knows? Although you shouldn’t purely give help to get it back, the person you assist may be able to vouch for you in the future or support your career in other ways.
Being good at networking starts with recognizing that you’re having a conversation with another human being who may be able to teach you something new if you really engage with them.