Real networking is a hard skill to master because it can feel artificial. When you attend an event designed for networking it can seem like speed dating for business—handshakes, cocktails, and business cards. If you are trying to build a network, how do you start the process of relationship building?
Define your purpose. Why are you here? Why do you need or want to meet people? How will networking advance your business? What do you hope to gain and what do you have to offer in return? Once you know why you are networking, the conversations come a little easier. Common questions at business networking functions are, “Who are you with?” and “What do you do?” If you can package your response to those questions in a way to define your purpose, meeting people and discovering mutually beneficial opportunities will be much easier
CFO Kathryn Hoyt from Wonders & Worries in Austin gives this advice: “Remember the two parts of networking. Be a good listener but make sure to get across WHY you are networking. They will remember why they met you and refer you to others by associating you as a person who both gives and takes.”
Meet some new people. That's networking, right? It’s good to go to events and see people you already know, but branch out to meet new folks. Nathan Green, Co-Founder of campus2careers.com and the Austin Young Chamber recommends that you “always have one question prepared whenever you go into a networking event so you can start the conversation with a question. This will allow you to learn more about the person you are speaking with for context and will allow you to listen to them. We often forget names because we are too busy thinking about what we want to say next. A good question will solve all your networking issues.”
Networking should be give and take. Some experts refer to it as the “Now and Later” skill. Billy Glading, founder of CandidCareer.com suggests that you ask yourself what you can do for that person when you meet them, not what they can do for you. “Providing help, a solution, or making an introduction without looking for anything in return goes a long way in forming a new relationship that might be meaningful down the road.”