By Deborah Viveiros, VP, Small Business Banker
Networking. The very word makes some of us flinch with distaste. Even the most natural extroverts can find networking stressful and forced.
All too often, networking can feel like a lot of work. But when done authentically and effectively, networking can truly work for you — creating more opportunities for both professional success and personal fulfillment.
Why is networking so important? Well for starters, research shows that more than 80% of all jobs are filled by networking. The longer you advance in your career, the more likely that your next opportunity will come from someone in your network actively reaching out to you…or someone enthusiastically referring you.
Networking is also a great way to build your career support system. According to Forbes, 77% of high-achieving women have strong ties to an inner circle of two to three other women. And women who share career advice are nearly three times more likely to get a better job.
Of course, if you’re responsible for developing new business in your field, networking can be a great way to identify potential new prospects…as long as you don’t try to sell them at the event. But when you do follow up with them later, you’ll find that prospects will be much more open to hearing from you if they at least know of you.
Networking can also be a great way to learn more about your industry, identify resources that can help you accomplish your goals, gain new insights, even make new friends.
Fortunately, there are ways to take the work out of networking. Here are five tips to keep in mind the next time you’re headed to a business or community event.
1. Split up, then meet up. Often, women go to events in pairs or groups. That’s great, but don’t be afraid to go to an event without your wing woman. Even if you do go with people you know, agree ahead of time to split up and introduce yourself to people you don’t know. Try reaching out to others who are by themselves at the event. Keep in mind that they may not be feeling comfortable either and would welcome you taking the initiative.
Prior to each event, think about your “positioning line” — the short sentence you’ll use to describe your strengths and/or interests when you introduce yourself to others. Consider tailoring that line to make it more relevant for the attendees of each event. Say you’re going to a Women in Business event. “I’m a team leader at (name of organization), as well as the chair of our company’s internal women’s network. Looking forward to getting some new ideas about how best to support the personal and professional growth of our women employees. How about you…what brings you to this event?”
After you’ve had some time to establish a rapport, introduce your new contact to your existing colleagues or to someone else you may know at the event. That’s a great way to ensure you don’t get stuck talking to only one person. By reaching out to include others in the conversation, you’ll be able to naturally move to a new conversation and meet more people in less time.
2. Practice the name game. Nothing establishes rapport faster than simply calling someone by their name — as long as it’s the right name. So try the Dale Carnegie method for remembering names. It starts by committing to making this a goal. Don’t excuse yourself by saying “oh, I’m just bad with names.” Concentrate and listen carefully as others say their names. Repeat them out loud. As you do, create visual or verbal associations in your mind — outlandish, unforgettable images or clever word plays that will help you remember their name. Picture Bill standing next to a giant dollar bill or Amanda with a panda. Coming up with these associations quickly may not come easy at first, but practice makes possible.
3. Make it about them, not you. In a networking situation, one of the best ways to feel less self-conscious is to be more conscious of the other person. As soon as you introduce yourself, ask a question to show you’re interested in them. Questions like “have you been to this event before?” or “what made you interested in coming to this event?” are easy ways to start the conversation. Truly listen to their answers. Follow up on something they said with another related question. Find areas of common interest. By focusing more on them, you can’t help but be less worried about yourself.
Another way to curb your self-consciousness is to remember that you’re not just networking for your benefit. You’re doing it for the benefit of your organization — whether you’re an entrepreneur, run a small business or represent a major corporation. If you keep in mind that you’re serving as an ambassador, you may be even more motivated to reach out and build awareness for — and favorability towards — your business or employer.
4. Sit outside your comfort zone. As long as your seating for the presentation or the meal isn’t “assigned,” don’t just sit with your friends. Again, agree to split up. Move to tables that aren’t filled yet. Ask if this seat is taken. Introduce yourself to your new table mates. Ask more questions. Soon you’ll find you’ve expanded your network by diversifying your seating.
5. Continue the connection. Don’t be shy about swapping business cards at an event. It may seem more natural to ask for someone else’s card first, before extending yours. After the event, follow up with a short, nice-to-meet you email or LinkedIn message, referring back to something they mentioned at the event. Just as remembering names establishes rapport, remembering comments turns that rapport into the start of a relationship.
Periodically, nurture your most promising relationships by reaching out with another message. Share an article you think they might like. Let them know about another event on a shared topic of interest. Comment on an award they received. Ask for their feedback or a referral.
“Networking” can be a scary word. But in reality, it taps strengths that come fairly naturally to many women. Making others feel comfortable. Listening to what others have to say. And continuing to take an interest in what matters most to someone else. So just keep it real and be yourself — and you’ll forget that networking even contains the word work.
Webster Bank has long been a welcoming home for successful business women — both bankers and business owners alike. We are also deeply committed to furthering our own diversity and inclusion in the workplace and celebrating the authentic uniqueness of all our associates.
The opinions and views in this blog post are those of the authors, and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All loans are subject to the normal credit approval process.
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