April 14, 2023
According to a report from Harvard Business Review, 95 percent of professionals feel face-to-face networking is essential to maintain long-term business connections. However, not everyone is interested—or even confident—in their ability to increase social capital through a professional network. In fact, based on a recent poll of almost 5,000 respondents, only 24 percent are still in touch with old contacts. And only 28 and 31 percent focus on new or existing connections.
It’s understandable if you’re out of practice, given these last few years of pandemic isolation. Still, there’s no time like the present to brush up on your networking skills for 2023. So whether in-person or online conversations are more your speed, here’s how to leave a strong, memorable impression on future business connections.
Do Your Research on the Industry and Contacts
Whether you attend a networking event or send a message on LinkedIn, it’s crucial to understand who you want to connect with and their line of work. If you enter a conversation armed with this basic knowledge, it will demonstrate a precise level of preparation and intentionality.
No one wants to feel like their time is wasted, especially at a networking function when everyone is working toward the same goal of building a professional circle. Do your research in advance—learn about a potential connection’s industry, organization, area of expertise and other affiliations. This allows you to start with some of the preliminaries (this is still the south, after all), but then move right to the point when you’re ready.
Look for an Opening to Initiate Communication
It’s hard to step outside your comfort zone, but reluctance to make an effort will stand between you and sharpening your networking skills. You won’t always be able to count on someone else to start a discussion for you—sometimes, you’ll have to be the initiator.
Here’s the trick to successfully initiating communication: scan the room for a conversation opener. Do you see a person standing alone? Walk over to introduce yourself. Does someone’s outfit appeal to you? Offer a sincere compliment. Identifying a shared touchpoint breaks the ice of an interaction. Someone standing alone may be just as uncomfortable as you are, so you’ll be both offering and receiving a lifeline by reaching out first – and it just might turn out to be a terrific connection for you.
Hone Your Nonverbal and Active Listening Cues
To a certain extent, networking relationships are transactional. After all, these connections can help grow your business or career. But it’s important not to come across as someone that’s only interested in what others can do for you.
Effective relationships are mutually beneficial, so make sure whoever you interact with feels valued as a human being, not a means to an end. You can communicate this without saying a word. Lean in with a friendly, receptive posture. Maintain normal eye contact as they speak. Listen actively and ask meaningful follow-up questions—don’t plan out your response while they’re talking.
Don’t Forget to Follow-Up
All relationships need consistency to thrive, and your professional network is no different. It might take many conversations or several meetings to develop that strong relationship. It’s okay to be persistent, but you should never violate the other person’s boundaries.
For example, within 24 hours of meeting someone new, reach out on LinkedIn to thank the individual for the conversation. Then share your contact information and ask if they would like to schedule a coffee date, phone call or Zoom meeting to chat further.
Networking Skills Create Lasting Connections
Whether you connect with potential leads at a business lunch, industry seminar, or on social media, these networking skills will get you on the right track. If you’re unsure where to begin—or where to find other local professionals to grow your network—Endeavor’s Member Directory is an excellent starting point. This resource makes it easy to filter your search results based on a particular industry. Then once you select an organization in that discipline, you’ll be routed to a page with the business website and the primary contacts’ email address, phone number, and, in some cases, LinkedIn profile.
Even better, become an Endeavor member yourself and turn every day into a casual, comfortable networking opportunity as you work and attend member events alongside other growth-minded professionals.
Now all that’s left to do is start the conversation!