By Marita Garrett, Co-Owner, Admintrinsic; Councilwoman, Borough of Wilkinsburg
With the overflow of networking events, it can seem daunting to step out of your comfort zone and discuss your business or organization with a stranger. But, in a world that is constantly connected, it is important to learn the value of networking effectively and how these new connections can contribute to your professional and personal growth.
As the old adage goes, “It’s who you know…”
With networking, you can create your own system of support and empowerment to become the most successful person you can be for yourself and your community.
Being a councilwoman and professional, I attend dozens of networking events throughout the year. Whether it be a United Way eXchange event, professional happy hour, or community meeting, it can still seem intimidating to talk to professional strangers.
So where do you start? There are three key tactics to becoming a better networker:
Be confident. Confidence is key in any situation. The presence of confidence or lack thereof can be very transparent. Exhibit good posture, give a firm handshake, keep your arms uncrossed and maintain proper eye contact. All of these things will show you’re engaged and interested in the conversation.
Step out of your comfort zone. After preparing for an interview or event and showing up with confidence, it’s important to take the plunge and start making connections. Don’t be shy, start conversations with multiple event-goers and make sure to trade names and contact information.
Follow up. You’ve made it through the event unharmed and walked away with a pocket full of business cards, but the networking doesn’t end there. In fact, this is the most important step. You’d be surprised at how many networkers focus so much of their attention on meeting new people, rather than nurturing and growing relationships, which is the ultimate goal of building your network.
Once you’ve mastered those three steps, you’re on your way to becoming a better networker and can begin focusing on even more ways to connect with local professionals and building your list of contacts.
If you want to polish your networking skills and really start growing your professional relationships, try these six hacks to become a networking rockstar:
- Make an introduction: Once you know two people in the room, make sure they know each other also. It’s likely they’ll return the favor.
- Network with those already in your network: Don’t focus too heavily on meeting new people. Make sure to grow and maintain the relationships you’ve already created.
- Show your value: Instead of simply explaining your profession, figure out how you and your new professional peer can work together on an upcoming project.
- Meet professionals outside of networking events. Try making relationships while doing good for your community. You could attend a United Way Next Generation volunteer event or sign up to ‘Be a Middle School Mentor.’ Volunteering lends a great opportunity to mingle with like-minded professionals.
- Take time to social network. Follow up with people you meet by finding them on LinkedIn or Twitter, and then engage with them by joining in discussions.
- Create strategic relationships. Networking is a lot of work. Limit yourself to 5-10 strategic relationships that you work to grow and maintain. Ask yourself, “If I were to lose my job tomorrow, who would be most helpful to contact?”
By creating a network of professional contacts and peers, you will be able to, not only, become more successful and established personally, but create new partnerships and collaborations that will go a long way for your community, business or organization. If we all focus on building more professional relationships, we will ultimately create a better, more collaborative and united community.
Now go out there and start networking!