For those of you who are naturally great at combining nuanced social skills with effective sales tactics, that’s wonderful - you’re ahead of the curve, go take a nap or catch a movie. For the rest of us, tips, practice, and good old fashioned grit are going to be the difference between being offered that amazing opportunity that gets presented to you at the next dinner party you go to, and not being invited to that party at all.
“When you get to the executives levels, there’s a general tendency to overthink and overanalyse social situations, to the point of accidentally neglecting the person you’re speaking to,” explains Gail Meneley, Co-Founder and Advisor at Shields Meneley Partners
, the leading advisory firm for top executives in career transitions. “We’ve coached many executives in the art of networking, and the overwhelming majority are simply in need of improvement in basic skills, such as listening, confidence and follow up. Becoming a great networker is something you can learn at any age, if you put in the effort.”
After creating a career around helping top-tier executives transform their professional goals and discover new opportunities, it’s safe to say that Gail Meneley has a lot of great advice for those who want to learn how to network like the best of them. Here are her top pieces of advice for those who are looking to get more out of every social interaction they participate in: Be valuable
“The most common problem we see when we’re coaching those who are poor at networking is that they enter into conversations focused on what they can get out of the interaction,” says Meneley. “It’s so incredibly important to enter every conversation thinking about what you can do for them - what value do you bring to the table? What problems can you solve? How can you make their life easier?”
Think about how you react when someone comes up to you in a social event and you can tell they just want to ask you for a favor, but are “politely” waiting through enough small talk before they can ask it? Now think about how you feel when someone comes up and asks if they can get you something, or if you need help? Make sure that you always come across as the latter, and you’ll be much more successful in all social situations, but most especially when networking. Do your homework
Before you meet with someone you know has power in the industry you’re interested in, do some research on them. Look for what they’ve done, what they’re currently working on, and what their goals are for themselves and for their company. Make sure to also check out who they are as a person: do they talk about pop culture or media a lot, or do they stick to their industry? How professional are they with their online personas?
“It’s much easier to get to know someone when you already have an idea of what to talk about to interest them,” explains Meneley. “If you walk in blind, you need to guess at so many things, and you risk running into topics that you know nothing about. If you give yourself a sneak peek of what they’re exciting to discuss, you’ll know what to bring up - and what to say to make you seem well informed, professional and valuable.”
Next time you’re getting ready to go to a conference where you know there will be big names wandering the floor, or before you to go a networking mixer
(especially if they publish a list of attendees), take the time to know who to target, and what to say. Follow up immediately - And then again
There’s a major aspect of the networking process that is often overlooked or even forgotten: the follow up
. Making contact as soon as possible through email or phone after your initial introduction is crucial to building that relationship into something more substantial than a one time conversation.
“For networking events, mixers, parties and conferences, I recommend emailing each contact with a few sentences about what you talked about and a little about yourself within twenty four hours of meeting - ideally, that same night,” advises Meneley. “If you wait to contact them until a few days later, it’s likely they won’t have a strong memory of who you were; they were also, after all, speaking to many people that night, and continued with their lives the next day.”
After that initial follow up, they’ll hopefully reply back on their own - however, if they don’t, that doesn’t mean you should stop trying. Send another follow up email on top of it, and in this one, include something of value and an action item. A perfect example: give them a few sentences of advice or a question about their current project, and invite them out for coffee.
Networking may seem like a very intimidating activity, but if you approach it by considering what it would take to get your targets to want to get to know you, you’ll have much more success. Offer them something of value, be present, bring up topics that are interesting to them, and enthusiastically follow up to become a networking master.