If you’d rather have your arm amputated than attend networking meetings, you’re right up there with the majority of Americans. Why is this, you ask? If you are a more reserved and private person the act of networking (aka ‘schmoozing’) with others feels unnatural and artificial.
The commonly accepted concept of networking is that you must dress to impress, grab a pile of your business cards and set off to meet as many people as you possibly can in a two hour time frame. But, there IS an easier way. Namely, that in your daily life you focus on creating meaningful relationships with colleagues, customers, clients and business associates on a regular basis.
If you think about it, you can accomplish wonders with just a smile and a friendly word. After all, there’s a good chance that the person you meet will be equally timid and looking for someone to guide him. Once you do meet someone, the next step is easy. And that is to have a set of questions to ask him that will help you get to know what he’s all about.
An excellent first question is “How did you get where you are today?” A good second question is “What do you like/dislike most about your current career?” If he is self-employed, you might ask “If you had to create your business all over again, what would you do differently?’ And, by the way, this latter question gives you an opportunity to learn something!
Face it: people LOVE to talk about themselves, so by demonstrating interest in their favorite topic, you predispose them to like you. And that’s the very first step in cultivating a solid rapport.
When you meet someone new, instead of worrying about handing him one of your business cards be sure to get his. That way, YOU are driving this boat and can call him up or e mail him when appropriate to do so. If you have a poor memory, it will be important for you to develop a way of remembering who the person is.
You might carry a small notebook in which you can jot a few details about the person such as ‘wearing a red tie, purple shirt and funky blue shoes’; or ‘worked selling popcorn at the zoo during college.’ Jot down any detail that will help you put his face with his name so that when he receives the note you send him the next day making reference to your conversation, he’ll conclude that you’re someone who is really on the ball.
Finally, remember that as you build your network of contacts you need to stay in touch with them consistently so that when you need something—like a job—they will be more inclined to help you if they can.