Clients often ask how to navigate the awkward aspects of networking. And, just so that we are clear—there’s plenty of awkwardness to go around: forced conversation, petty name-dropping, and yes—the uncanny barrage of pregnant pauses. Although networking is not rocket science, it can be tricky.
Here are five tips that will help you breathe easy while rubbing elbows at your next social event:
Know the landscape. Research the key players (organizations and individuals) in advance. Understand who they are and how you fit into the big picture. Is there an opportunity for a compelling conversation? Are there possible synergies? Are there topics that should be avoided? Find out. Be prepared to demonstrate that you’ve done your homework and can articulate the lay of the land.
Bring your A-game. This is not the time to become a shrinking violet. Show up ready to leverage your best asset: you. Be prepared to articulate who you are in a clear and credible way, as well as showcase your strong suits with finesse. Make a first-class impression. And, as celebrity makeup artist and visual brand strategist Brandi Mitchell shares in her book “Look the Part to Get the Role”— “Every day you are telling [a] story through your image. What story are you telling?” Be sure it’s the one you intend, both physically and professionally.
Be yourself. If you’re not comfortable being yourself, then certainly don’t try to become someone else. Whether or not your realize it, it’s pretty clear when you are putting on airs. It’s exhausting and makes you look ridiculous. Why waste time when you are better off just being the best version of yourself? Talk like you. Walk like you. Don’t suddenly develop an affinity for caviar if the smell of fish makes you nauseous. You get the picture.
Build rapport. How do you connect with complete strangers? It’s not as mysterious as you might think. You build a bridge—it’s called rapport. The secret is active listening and genuine engagement. People love to talk about themselves. So, let them. Demonstrate sincere interest and others will return the favor. Avoid self-promotion and monopolizing the discussion, which are both deal breakers. Instead, develop a voracious appetite for curiosity about others. You’ll be amazed at how effortlessly a great conversation can develop.
Execute a surgical follow-up. What’s the purpose of networking if not to re-connect after the event? This is the ultimate priority. Exchange business cards and make sure that you follow-up with an email within 24 hours. Remember to include important details about your conversation in the email—this personalizes the exchange. A timely follow-up keeps everything “top of mind” and provides the foundation for a solid professional relationship. It also demonstrates that you are serious and committed to re-connecting. If geographically possible and appropriate, get another face-to-face (coffee, lunch, etc.) on your dime and create an opportunity to take the connection to the next level.
Employ these tips and watch your charisma increase by a factor of 5.
To your success!
Karima Mariama-Arthur, Esq. is the founder and CEO of WordSmithRapport, an international consulting firm specializing in professional development. Follow her on Twitter: @wsrapport or visit her Website, WordSmithRapport.com.