Networking Know-How: The keys to building a powerful network

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By Jennifer Beale

All successful people say networking is the key to achieving goals. Given today’s ever-changing, high-tech, hyper-connected world, it’s never been easier to find the right people. But because everyone is bombarded with information and requests, it’s hard to get someone’s attention. And when you do, it can be even harder to keep it.

Live events remain the best place to connect with the right people. Nothing can replace an event for getting noticed and initiating lucrative, long-term relationships. Face-to-face conversations let you build trust and understanding faster than any social media platform can. All it takes is some planning and practice.

Before the Event

  • Be clear about what you want. Set specific goals.
  • Make a list of the people who can help you reach your goals.
  • Research events attended by these people. Note who is attending, as well as exhibitors, speakers and the host. When you find a good match, register and select an upgraded ticket that includes extra events and opportunities to meet with dignitaries.
  • Contact key people and request to meet at the event.
  • Prepare two introductions. The first is for face-to-face networking: a one- to two-sentence statement that focuses on the value you provide. The second is a 30-second to one-minute introduction to say before a group of people to magnetize someone to you.
  • Prepare great questions to guide your conversations. You want to quickly decide if there’s a mutually beneficial relationship to invest in.
  • Set up your meeting schedule on your phone for booking appointments.

At the Event

Dress the part. Look professional and dress appropriately for your industry. It’s the easiest way to make a good first impression.

Make it your priority to meet as many people as you can. At meals and during presentations, make it a habit to sit with people you don’t know yet. Take time away from sessions to mingle. Watch for opportunities to meet the specific people you noted when researching the event.

Be confident and approachable. Smile and keep your body language open. Get noticed by everyone. Ask the speaker questions during presentations, always stating clearly your name before you ask. Also, do what presenter suggests – and tell them you did.

Initiate conversations that go somewhere. Start with your short introduction that says who you are and the highest value you offer. Then ask someone their name and what they do. Discover what you have in common, first. It could be a hobby, people you know, that you work in the same industry, were born in the same town or city – literally anything. When you find something in common you will both feel a connection and trust. Next guide the conversation by asking great questions. The questions should uncover the person’s current goals and any challenges they have in achieving them.

Be curious. Listen carefully to what others have to say. A good rule of thumb is listen 70 per cent of the time and make comments and ask questions 30 per cent of the time. When you see potential synergies, let the person know, and if they agree book an appointment right away

Avoid having to follow up to book an appointment. Instead pull out your phone and schedule a meeting right away. Take someone’s card for reference. Then all you have to do is follow through.

After the Event

You attended an event and booked some appointments. Now what?

Networking is about building and maintaining relationships with people who will help you reach your goals. But it’s not a one-way street. To grow a relationship you need to be actively relating to people you know and trust, and receive value from. Likewise, they need to know and trust, and benefit from you.

Keep in mind you can only maintain so many connections. In fact, according to celebrated anthropologist and psychologist Robert Dunbar, the maximum number of relationships anyone can maintain ongoing is about 150. Beyond that, it becomes time consuming and challenging to connect frequently enough to sustain your relationship.

So be selective about with whom you invest your energy, time and money. You need about 25 key influencers and referral partners; the other 125 should be people willing to share knowledge and wisdom and influencers you want to know better.

Stay top of mind by actively engaging in a way that is valued by the other. How you relate with people is more important than how often you relate:

  • Find high-value items to share that are low cost to you.
  • Connect on social media and comment on someone’s posts.
  • Subscribe to their e-newsletter or blog and respond with questions and comments.
  • Book phone meetings to discuss synergies and help them achieve each other’s goals.
  • Invite them to attend an event with you.
  • Meet in person for lunch or coffee.
  • Host a business appreciation event and invite them to attend.

Be generous and add value. When you carry a “what can I get” approach chances are you won’t get much in return. Instead focus on “what can I give” and watch how people respond to you. Scientific studies show generosity leads to everything from being more confident, happy and productive. A giving attitude also eliminates the need for tricks and techniques that often backfire and cause disconnection.

Follow Through

Do everything you said you would – this is the easiest way to build trust fast. Show up on time for scheduled appointments and be prepared:

  • Research the person on social media and through their website.
  • Prepare great questions to guide the conversation in a mutually beneficial direction.
  • Be clear about what you can help someone with and what you request from them.

Get in the habit of keeping track of each relationship in a contact management system like Outlook, HubSpot and ACT! Add notes from each meeting including personal information like birthdays, anniversaries, favorite charities that provide additional opportunities to connect.

“All relationships are teleological, are going somewhere,” writes Donald Miller in his book, Scary Close. Be intentional about where you are going with others.

With the right people, a generous mindset, some diligence in getting and staying organized, and the habit of routinely staying in touch in meaningful ways, you will build a network of people who will help many people who in turn will help you achieve many of your goals.

Jennifer Beale is an award-winning networker and award-winning event producer. She facilitates 360 Networking, an event that guides attendees to finding the right people and booking appointments on the spot. Jennifer is also the publisher of BizNetworkNews.com, a hub for professionals who want to network like a pro.

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