BLOG: The Art of Networking

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Maybe you’ve made a professional transition, started your own firm, you’re a service provider, a commercial real estate developer, in retail, or running for political office.  In any of these scenarios, one thing is vital to your success – your ability to network.

Whether you’re attending the Mackinac Policy Conference, Tigers Opening Day, or watching your nephew play hockey, you have a chance to meet someone who could change the course of your career.  In every opportunity where people gather (except funerals – please!), there’s an opportunity to network.

Networking is a lost art.  You meet someone, you exchange cards, and it gets added to the pile on your desk.   How you prepare, connect and follow up is what takes you from good to great.

I’ve attended thousands of events, and developed a successful road map for any professional.  Here are five thoughts to help you be more successful:

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  • Google everything you can about the upcoming event.  Who are the organizers?  Sponsors?  Speakers?  Attendees? Access this information in advance, and create a plan of action.  You’re goal is simple: meet three new contacts per event or per conference day.  Focus on three solid connections, not more and not less.
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  • Set meetings in advance.  If you’re looking to meet the powerhouse keynote speaker, CEO, or high level elected official, your request needs to be months in advance, and you won’t get an hour, so don’t ask for it.  Request to meet for five, 10 or 15 minutes (always before they go on stage), and pay attention to your watch. Keep your conversation and questions concise.  The lobby of the host hotel, or during a break in the program is an excellent place and time to set these meetings.
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  • Stop passing out business cards.  Networking is all about cultivating lasting relationships.  It’s unlikely people you meet at an event will buy a product or service from you in 30 seconds or five minutes.  The only thing they buy is trust and likeability.  If you’re pushing your card within the first few minutes, you’re probably not building a lasting relationship.  Instead, get their card, ask them questions, find out whom they’re trying to meet, and make that connection for them.  Leave yourself and your elevator pitch out until they ask. Can you help solve a problem for them or introduce them to a potential client?  Do that, learn to do it well, and you’ll earn their trust.  Provide value to people before asking for an opportunity to earn their business.
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  • Take notes on people.  You meet a great contact and you’re asking questions, how will you remember the conversation in a week or longer?  Within minutes of meeting someone, take a detailed note, and send yourself an email.  In the subject line identify their name and where you met them.  When you get to your inbox, you’ll have a note on everyone of interest, and you’ll include details like: company name, goals, who could be a potential client for them, their alma mater, do I know anyone talented I might recommend for a job, etc.  Give yourself a chance to make a lasting impression long after they’ve (maybe) forgotten details they shared with you.
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  • The business is the follow up.  You get back to your office after a four-day conference, and you now have 12-15 cards on your desk.  If this is the first time you’re reaching out, you’re already late to the game.  Follow up emails, a short text, or personal direct message on LinkedIn should happen as soon as you can, preferably within 30 minutes of meeting someone.  Offer to meet your new contact for breakfast or lunch, and do not pitch yourself.  Ask about their business, how they got started, pay attention, make good eye contact, and do not ever look at your phone.  Social media or a text can wait until after you break bread.  Be in the moment with people.  If it helps, leave your phone face down, or in your jacket.

Networking is about putting other people first.  Find out what they’re looking to accomplish, what obstacles exist in their business, and be a problem solver.  Change the way you look at events and people.  Stop thinking about how many people will buy from you today, and start thinking “how can I help others grow from my knowledge and network?”

You’ll find people appreciate you going the extra mile when you offer them a beneficial e-mail intro, or send an article that you thought they might appreciate; especially if it’s about their hobby or passion.  Show them you listen, show them you care, and you too can master the art of networking.

Derek Dickow is the founder of Steward Media, a political and public relations firm, and is passionate about helping people in his network.  He speaks to organizations on “The Art of Networking,” and his team creates networking opportunities for political leaders, commercial real estate developers, and service providers He can be reached at www.steward-media.com.

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