What does networking mean to you?

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Speaking the same (science) language

For many people, networking means going to a presentation or meeting and collecting and handing out business cards. And while this is one technique, it is not all of networking or even a large part. 

Networking is establishing and maintaining personal relationships with people for your mutual benefit.  The benefits must go both ways and be satisfying to both people in any networking meeting.  It includes choice and follow-up.  Random meeting and exchange of business cards may, but usually does not, lead to benefits for both parties.

Choice means choosing where and when to meet people and establish a relationship of some sort.  If three months or three days later you or your networking partner does not remember the other, it was not networking.  It may have been a good party, but not networking.  Only participate in “networking events” if the other people there are likely to be in your industry.

Choose where and when you network.  Don’t expect too much from yourself – don’t try to collect all of the business cards in the room!  Decide to network with no more than 5-10 people at any one event.  Ask questions about them!  Find out what they do and if there is anything you can do for them.  Do not give your “elevator speech” unless they ask you what you do, but keep it short and turn the conversation back to them as soon as possible.  Don’t be desperate! 

Networking can also, and perhaps even better, be done one on one.  Take someone to coffee and learn about them, their job, their company, what they do in their spare time, without asking for anything for you.  Figure out what you can do to make their life better.  Perhaps you should introduce them to someone, send them a link, follow-up after you do some research, but always give them the gift of your attention.  We all like attention and will feel better when we get it.

If these people seem to be interesting to you, add them to your career network and keep up with them – follow them on LI, on FB, wherever the web makes it easier, but also do it in real life.  Send holiday cards, invite them to your big 4th of July party, etc. 

Friends are the inner circle of your personal network, some of your business network/career network people will become personal friends.  And we all need friends!

7 Essential Actions at Every Networking Event

Do you go to networking events and wonder what to do?

Make a plan!

1.  Get the attendee list early, if you can, and look up the people you are most interested in.

If you can get the list of attendees before the meeting, you can look them and their companies up online and have even more to ask about.  And you can approach the people you have already decided you want in your network.

2.  Get there early and look over the room, the venue and the crowd. 

Get there early enough to find the bathroom (you never know when someone else will need that bit of information) and look over the room.  You may find that you are a bit overdressed and could remove your jacket or otherwise change your appearance.

3. Speak to every person standing by themselves.

They are probably a bit nervous and will be glad to have someone approach them or, if it is early, they will not yet be in a large group.

4. Build their network too

Remember that you are building both your own network and theirs, so see if you know anyone who might be of interest to them.

5. Give and gather at least 3 cards. 

Aim for at least 3 cards from every event, but raise that as you get more comfortable.  There is a limit – you don’t want to simply rush from person to person, grabbing cards.  You will need to respond to each one of them within a few days so don’t get more than you can reply to. (more on this in another post)  Take enough cards for when people approach you!

6.  Ask them what they do and what is happening at their company.

People love to talk about themselves and what they do.  Let them start first – some people will never ask what you do, putting you ahead of the game by getting information from them. You may not even need that “elevator speech” you sweated over.  It could go, “I see that you are from X company – what do you do there?”  What you are giving at this point is attention and interest – and we all need both of those!  Don’t approach someone and beg or deliver your sales pitch – they don’t know yet if they care about you at all.  Remember that equal exchange – no one hires because you need a job.

7.  Approach and speak with the speaker

Comment on something that they said, ask a question for further clarification and get their card.  Make notes on the back of the card and send an email the next day.

What do you usually do?

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