Mastering the art of networking
Designing a strategy for meaningful connections
By Suzanne Charlotte Vos
Sometimes it can feel like you are putting the “work” into networking but not getting the desired results. After a mentor emphasized “Your network is your net worth” and it could do wonders for my career, I attended as many networking events and conferences as my calendar could handle. And it was hard! As an introvert, I spent a lot of energy meeting new people and would come back home exhausted with a lot of business cards I didn’t know what to do with.
One day I was ranting about this to Aga Gajownik over a cup of coffee. Then she asked me the simple question “What is your networking strategy?” and I realize, I did not have one. I needed to become more strategic in my approach to networking to get the results I wanted faster. We worked through the BASICS model, where “I” stands for “Important People”. One of the types of Important People is our professional network. Here are some elements that really helped me become more strategic when networking:
Start with the end in mind: what is your networking goal?
By just going out and talking with people, you can learn how to communicate, overcome fears or shyness, learn about new trends in your industry or simply spend free time on something else than watching TV or scrolling through your phone.
However, when you network with a clear intention, you can supercharge your professional development strategies to your advantage. The funny thing about the human brain is that it likes focusing on a limited amount of information at a given time. So, let’s give it the right things to focus on.
Before scheduling any networking event into your calendar, take a moment to ask yourself: “What do I want to get out of this?” Do you want to expand your knowledge and learn about emerging technologies in your industry? Are you on a business development mission? Or are you in the market for a mentor?
Identifying your goals will allow you to go into networking sessions with a clear purpose and actively work towards it.
Take some time to understand your target audience
Once you have established your networking goals, the next part of the strategy is to identify and understand who would be able to help you with achieving those goals.
Who are the individuals you should connect with? Understanding what they care about and what interests them helps you identify what they would like to hear from you. When you get to know your target audience better, you can refine your approach and tailor your message accordingly.
Knowing who you’re trying to connect with will also help you identify where you can find them. You can research where they are likely to hang out — these could range from industry-specific conferences to online communities.
By focusing your efforts on reaching your target audience, you can increase the likelihood of meeting connections that are beneficial and relevant to your goal.
Craft an authentic brand narrative
After figuring out what you want to get out of your networking efforts and who you should look for, it’s time to get into action.
It’s said that our brains take just 7 seconds to form an impression about someone we just met. So, to make a lasting impression that counts, it is crucial to prepare the narrative you want to communicate from the get-go.
One great way to do this is by preparing an elevator pitch: a concise and compelling introduction that showcases the skills and experiences you bring to the table. You can also take this opportunity to let your personality and passions shine through and to find common ground with people outside of a work context. Highlighting your unique value and backing this up with stories and examples helps you create an authentic brand narrative that could unlock more meaningful connections.
Finally, as you connect with new people, clearly articulate who you are looking for or what you are currently working on. That way, even if the person in front of you is not able to help you, they might be able to connect you with the person who can. Now you are truly using the power of the network effect.
Keep your message clear, concise and observe the responses you get
Finding the initial words to express who you are and what you are good at can be challenging. Once you have a first idea of what you want to say, go out and talk to people and work on improving your story.
Observe how people respond to your message. Pick up on cues of what resonates with them and what falls flat. What kind of questions do they ask? What types of stories do they share in response to what you said? Based on this, consider what you should potentially tweak to make your message even more powerful.
Implement a follow-up strategy
Networking doesn’t end after you wave goodbye. To solidify the connections you have made, it is helpful to have a follow-up strategy in place.
One basic but highly effective action is to connect with people on LinkedIn. It is a quick and informal way to stay in touch and nurture your relationships over time.
Additionally, sending a short, personalized message after meeting someone can serve as a thoughtful gesture and a reminder of your interaction. (It also helps you with remembering where you met them!) You can consider offering to set up a chat for more in-depth conversations.
Networking is a powerful tool for personal and professional growth. It is not merely a numbers game. It is about cultivating meaningful connections that can lead to valuable collaborations and opportunities. With a well-defined strategy in place, you can expand your network effectively and with greater returns.
About the author:
Suzanne Charlotte Vos is Director at Innovation & Integration. She is on a mission to help people get unstuck and achieve their goals in a constantly transforming world. With over a decade of experience ranging from her family business to global corporate environments, she believes everyone benefits from having an innovative mindset in both a personal and professional capacity.