If you've been reluctant to network or you've tried it and it just wasn't for you, then you may want to try it again using some of these pointers. Given our short attention spans, pressing time commitments and data overload, it has become increasingly difficult to make a lasting and meaningful connection with new contacts.
Ditch the old pitch. If you struggle with what to say when someone asks you the question "what do you do?" you aren't alone. Answering this question trips up even the most experienced professionals. The new secret formula is short and snappy and immediately turns your questioning over to the other person. "I help [who benefits from your work] by [problem you solve]. And what do you do?" For example, this is how a human resources professional may answer the dreaded question: "I help managers at XYZ company hire and keep the best talent by fleshing out the real job requirements and teaching them how to interview for those skills. And what do you do?"
Bump instead of swap. Why not immediately swap your contact information at the next big networking event by trying a free networking app? Apps like this allow you to share your electronic business card by touching phones, in an email or as a link via many other ways. Not only will this save money on business cards, but the novelty of using them may make great conversation.
Make it real. Instead of opening a conversation with a safe and rather boring question like "what do you do," take it to a personal level and ask, something like "how do you spend your free time?" "What keeps you up at night?" or "What are you working on?" These less-often used conversation starters often result in more comfortable conversation, faster rapport building and most importantly set you apart.
Brand it. Everyone may not be up to speed with the newest phone technology. Always have a professional business card on hand. It should include name, job title, phone number, email and the URL for your LinkedIn account. You could take this a step further by adding key skills, industry expertise and maybe even an short pitch. And don't stop there: Chances are your personal email account isn't branded. Customize your email signature with your name, phone number, your desired occupation or skills sets, plus links to your LinkedIn profile and other social networking accounts.
Meet IRL. In person, or "in real life" networking, solidifies online connections and relationships. Be bold and take the initiative to ask for a face-to-face meeting with someone you may only know online. Maybe there is someone in an online group or forum whom you have not connected with yet. Invite them for coffee when you ask to connect with them on LinkedIn.
Play the host. Either real or imaginary, you can take on the role of the host. Every organization needs volunteers. Ask to be part of the events committee and offer to manage sign-ins at the registration table. This is a great way to force yourself to meet people. If this is more than you can commit to, consider playing host at the next meeting or event you attend by introducing someone you've recently met with someone you know.
Close with "the give." You may be familiar with "the ask," which is the way some sales people close their sales meeting. Instead of focusing on your agenda, needs, wants and requests, listen for the opportunity to give. The give could be a recommendation, tangible gift or just sharing relevant information or resources.
Be the connector. The reason most people network is to get, but giving is much more satisfying. Another form of giving is introducing people. Offer to introduce your new connection or even old connection to someone you think they should meet in your network.
The need for speed. A spinoff of speed dating, speed networking events are popping up in cities everywhere. Typically, you spend a short amount of time with one person and after the elapsed time, a bell rings signifying it is time to meet the next person. The purpose of these events is to meet with as many people one-on-one in a short amount of time as possible. Based on the short exchange, you can determine whom you would like to follow-up with, or not.
Link. By all means, ask if you can connect with people you meet on LinkedIn. But rather than send the invite right then and there from your smartphone, personalize your invite with a very short note from your home computer. Smartphone apps do not let you customize your invitations to connect, and you will want to mention something about your recent conversation with them in your invitation to ensure it doesn't get overlooked and that you make a memorable impression.
Be remembered. As the saying goes, out of sight, out of mind. Don't let this happen to you. After every encounter find a unique way to follow-up with the person you met. Of course a timely thank you goes a long way, but what about giving them a shout out on your favorite social network, or a handwritten thank you with a gift card?
Networking isn't really about you. Think about the people you've met and remembered. What is it that you remembered about them? How did they do it? They probably put the focus of the exchange on you. The best way to make someone remember you is to make them feel special or important. Try it!
Hannah Morgan is a speaker and author providing no-nonsense career advice; she guides job seekers and helps them navigate today's treacherous job search terrain. Hannah shares information about the latest trends, such as reputation management, social networking strategies, and other effective search techniques on her blog, Career Sherpa.