For many, networking is a dreaded task and difficult challenge. People struggle with knowing what to say, how they will be perceived, as well as being prepared to engage in a conversation with someone new. However, the reality is networking can serve as an indispensable tool for professional development and career success. This requires a paradigm shift related to redefining the purpose of networking and exploring how networking can lead to building strategic partnerships.
Networking can be characterized as an opportunity to engage in an exchange related to a common interest based upon shared personal and professional interests. This type of exchange is reciprocal in nature. One personal example is my international teaching experience. My first international teaching experience emerged after an informational interview. Initially, our conversation focused on our similar career paths in law and teaching. In the conversation, there was a reference to China. I immediately shared about my interest in China, my study of Mandarin Chinese, and my desire to teach there one day. This led to a series of other conversations and strategic partnerships. The end result was my dream coming to fruition when I taught in China during the summer of 2015.
As you prepare for your networking event, I would like to share 5 tips for networking success. These simple steps will aid you in networking like a pro. Each tip has been integral to my success in networking and career advancement.
BEFORE THE EVENT: PREPARATION
- Research the Event. Have a plan for who you would like to meet and why you would like to connect with them. Be prepared to build connections related to common interests and identify areas for future collaboration. LinkedIn can serve as a powerful tool to learn more about the event organizers and potential attendees.
- Prepare your introduction. Your introduction should show what makes you unique, identify your passions, and peak the interest of others in order to continue the conversation.
You can begin by sharing your name and general information about your background. For instance, my general opening is: I am Artika Tyner. I teach law, public policy, and leadership students how to become leaders who create change in the global community. I am on a mission to redefine leadership beyond the constraints of a position or title to focus on how everyday people can make a difference in the world.
This short introduction provides a glimpse into my career and personal passions.
Once you have your basic introduction ready, start practicing introductions for different events. You will need to adapt your introduction based upon the nature of the event or setting. Here are a couple of examples:
At author’s events: When I have opportunities to showcase my work as an author, I focus on the purpose of my leadership book series. Here is an example: I am an award-winning leadership author. My goal is to create a series of leadership books which inspire everyday people to serve in the global community and further the cause of justice.
At diversity events, I share about my work in developing practical strategies for building inclusive learning environments, workplaces and communities. Here is an example: I aid organizations in developing strategic diversity goals, creating multicultural marketing strategies and attracting & retaining diverse talent.
5 Key Tips for Networking Like a Pro
DURING THE EVENT: COMMUNICATION
- Focus on your nonverbal communication. If you prepare accordingly, you will be comfortable as you introduce yourself and make new connections. The first step is to focus on what you are communicating through your nonverbal communication since half of communication is not the words spoken but the body language conveyed. You should being your networking preparation by building your confidence. This begins with a firm handshake, standing tall, shoulders back, and head held high. Take a deep breath. Now, you are ready to network. Start the conversation with an open-ended question. One of my favorite opening introduction statements is from author Jay G. Foonberg: “What brings you here today?”
- Enjoy the experience. Welcome the opportunity to make new connections and build new relationships. Others will be drawn in by your positive energy.
AFTER THE EVENT: DEDICATION
- Develop a system for engagement. This will enable you to move beyond a single initial contact to creating opportunities to develop a mutually beneficial professional relationship. If you and your new acquaintance share a professional/technical background, share relevant information in your industry. I routinely share updates on current civil rights topics related to criminal justice and education reform with my network. If you see opportunities to connect your new contact with other colleagues, be a connector. Initiate an e-introduction. Lastly, celebrate milestones. If your new contact receives a promotion or develops a new product, send a note to congratulate him/her on this accomplishment. These interactions foster relationship building moving forward in order to strategically build partnerships with future endeavors.
I understand the fears that networking may hold for you, but I must challenge you to push past those fears as networking is an indispensable tool that will greatly benefit your life moving forward. Remember, the power of networking like a pro begins with Preparation, Communication, and Dedication.