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Improve networking with these insights

Helen Nicholson

People who brand themselves powerfully earn more money and enjoy more success. Once you understand your unique personal brand, networking is the best way for communicating it to others. Networking events are so important because if you avoid networking opportunities or invitations to events, you run the risk of becoming invisible. It is the vehicle for transporting your brand to the world; however, there are a few things you need to be aware of about networking before diving in head first.

1.    Networking is about others

People often make the mistake that networking is about finding and getting to know as many people as possible who can help you. But in fact, the strongest networkers in the world are those people who show interest in others and who are the first to offer them something, rather than ask for something.

2.    Diversity is the key

It takes six years to build a good network, according to Nicholson, and it is a long-term career strategy. Networking is wise farming, not hunting, and the more diverse your network, the more powerful it is.

Never under-estimate people.  Your network should be as diverse as possible, incorporating people from various backgrounds, who do various things. You want to be able to harness a large pool of talent and skills.

3.    Networking is an art

People often ask me how to approach an event to maximise networking. It takes two things: preparation and authenticity.

There are a few tricks you can learn and practise that will improve your networking. However, it is very important to stay genuine if you want people to want to know you – people can sense when you’re being authentic or not.

The most important stage of networking is the first impression:

  • Research by Jerker Denrell at the Stanford Graduate School of Business demonstrates that giving someone multiple opportunities to see and experience different sides of you is very critical for furthering your career. The first impression then either ensures that the other person will seek out additional opportunities to learn more about you, or totally destroys their interest all together.

Here are a few techniques which will improve your chances of putting across a good first impression:

1.    Instead of standing around at an event where you don’t know anybody, actively look for a group of three people who are discussing a topic you’re interested in. Gently break into the group by making eye contact with the person speaking. That person will keep eye contact, and the other two people in the group will assume that you and the speaker know each other.

2.    You can improve your ability to make small talk by reading widely so you can talk a little bit about anything, regardless of how much in common you have with the person you’re talking with.

3.    Don’t talk too much about yourself. Charming people know how to listen and listening is the first step to remembering.

4.    Remember names. When someone tells you their name, say it three times in conversation with them, and you won’t forget it. People are always impressed with someone who always remembers their name.

5.    Business cards are great conversation starters. In China, when someone receives a business card they treat it with honour, look at it, comment on it and place it in a pocket nearest their heart. In South Africa, we seem to just take it, not really look at it – hardly acknowledge it even - and put it in our back pockets. The Chinese custom is best because not only are you acknowledging the person’s gesture but, drawing from the card, you can start a conversation with them based on the information there.

6.    Prepare an elevator speech. This is also linked to first impressions. This speech should be short, informative and entice the listener to want to know more. Here’s a great formula for working out a good elevator speech. It consists of completing three sentences:

  • “I’m …”,
  • “I do …”, and
  • “So that …”.

7.    Last of all, but perhaps one of the most important points to remember: the follow-up. On average, 80% of people don’t follow-up after networking. If the first impression is so important for getting more opportunities to meet with a person, then forcing the second interaction can’t hurt. Following up also takes the form of thanking someone for anything they’ve done for you.

Networking is an art and one gets better at it the more you do it. This is why it is so important never to avoid an opportunity to meet new people or work on your existing network - you never know when you can make something big happen for someone and in turn something big happens for you.

Helen Nicholson dubbed “The Networking Queen” by many of her clients began her career as an accountant after studying at Wits University and has since evolved into a passionate entrepreneur. She is the director of The Networking Company, specialising in teaching people to Master the art of networking.