Everyone needs a network. Whether you are a recent graduate hunting for your first job, a manager who has scored a promotion, an author looking for speaking opportunities or a consultant looking for new business development leads everyone needs to improve their networking skills to ensure they are building the right network. In fact, no matter what profession you’re in, networking is the game changer that will fuel your success.
Networking the right way, can provide an opportunity to:
- learn more
- expand your connections
- create the opportunities for you to increase your profile and authority in your industry
- and to grow your business.
Over the last couple of weeks, I have been speaking to organisations and leaders about the critical networking skills that need to developing to build a strong foundation for growth. And like many, the word networking leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths. We worry about how to start a conversation, what to say when we do connect, how to be interesting and how to nurture and maintain a relationship over time. We worry about the networking skills we need to become good at networking.
I believe there is an art and a science to networking and building authentic relationships. It is an art in that it require basic human skills in communication, connection, authenticity and the ability to ‘be present’ and engaged with people and conversations.
It is a science in that building a network requires an ongoing analysis and audit of your network, and a sustained curiosity around whether you’re leveraging your network in the best way you can. It’s about seeing the lines that connect people and ideas and create opportunity.
Whilst I’ve written a best-selling book, It’s Who You Know’ on the subject of networking and spent years teaching what I’ve learned, I thought I’d share my top 5 ways to improve your networking skills.
Step 1: Change Your Language
Remove the word “net-working” from your language and think about the word “connecting” instead. We hear people talking about putting on their “networking game” face, challenging themselves on how many new contacts or leads they will get from this or that event or how to “monetize their network”. Talk about an inauthentic approach to networking!
And here’s the thing, every one of us has an invisible BS detector attached to our foreheads – we can weed out those people that are putting on their “networking face” and playing the numbers game vs an intentionality around engaging in true connection.
The best networking comes from genuine relationships, not a business card exchange or a “WIIFM” mentality. Be attention out and treat each person you meet as a friend, get curious about who they are and find something you have in common. Keep it light, relax and show that you genuinely care about their success and are curious about how you can help.
Step 2: Get Clear On Your End Result
Why are you networking in the first place? Why are really, really networking?
Building a network starts and ends with you having a clear goal in mind.
I’m a big believer in goal setting and focusing energy into accomplishing the stated goal. So, what are you trying to achieve right now? Where are you going? What is your game plan? What help do you need right now to get there?
And who is going to help you?
Write these goals down. Create your game plan and get focused on the action you need to take to step forward.
At the end of the day, there is no point attending any networking event if you really haven’t got a clue as to why you are there!
Look at your goals from step 2 and now get curious about who you already know.
Who is already advocating for you and your work, who is mentoring you along the way, who is challenging your thinking and pushing you to do more? Who is holding you accountable? Who cares about you achieving your success?
At the same time get curious about the gaps in your network. Who is missing?
Who could help you?
Where are the super connectors around you? The influencers? The architects and advisors? The butt-kickers?
If you’re looking to start a company, for example, you may need an investor, a strategic sounding board and a cheerleading client that loves your work.
Every single time I have published a book, some of the key people I needed surrounding me are my publicist, my publisher and my editor. During pandemic of 2020 when I launched my latest book, Be Brilliant, I absolutely needed a #cheersquad to help spread the word
Invest the time to map your existing network against your goals, do your research to be confident that that you have the right people around you to help you accomplish your goals faster.
Step 4: Building Real Connections
Networking is ultimately about connecting. Connecting is about being yourself and being yourself is about being human. Networking the right way IS NOT about a transfer of information. Improving networking skills is all about understanding that networking IS about a transfer of humanity.
So how do you foster a real connection when you speak with someone – whether it’s online, on the phone or in-person?
Here’s some of my thinking:
- Ask good quality questions. Tony Robbins often shares that the quality of your questions correlates to the quality of your life. By asking better questions you can really get to know someone. It immediately moves away from the superficial and often expected conversation to a place of thinking differently and encourages the other person to think in a new way that helps them grow.
- Focus on being attention out. Get out of your own head and the conversations the itty, bitty, shitty committee are having in there about what to say, how to respond, what will they think etc and focus 100% on the people you are meeting. Think about building friendships vs business connections. Get curious about them and how you may be able to help them. Care about their success before your own. I very rarely talk business with people when I first meet them because I am intentional about getting to know more about people first.
- Listen carefully. Listen to understand and not necessarily to respond. Switch on those listening ears, focus and really focus. Listening attentively and responding with relevant questions, you’re already separating yourself from the rest of the pack. For more information on listening I cannot recommend enough the incredible work of Oscar Trimboli.
- Become known as an action taker.Follow up. Say thank you for (insert how they helped, what you learnt, what you are taking from the conversation) and commit to next. It’s up to you to be intentional and to take control of the connection and what happens next.
Step 5: Become a Super-connector
The fastest way to grow your own network is to become a super connector to others. Stop keeping score and focusing on “what’s in it for me” and go ahead and introduce some people that you know need to know each other. Give unconditionally. Have no expectation of anything in return. Make introductions from a place of abundance and knowledge that there is enough business for everyone. Be willing to give, to share contacts, information, and knowledge.
Why not go right ahead and make some introductions now?
Which two people do you know that should know each other? Go on – make that introduction, share a little about each of them and why you are connecting them.
Sometimes I have no idea about why, I simply just know two awesome people need to connect. Only this last week I introduced two people with a message that said something like “X please meet Y. I have no idea what magic will happen with you both knowing each other, but I just know two awesome women, doing what you do need to connect.”
And while we are at it, why not find a way to make new connections for yourself.
Are you working on a white paper or a research paper, do you want to start a podcast or writing a book? This is a fabulous way to reach out to new people and connect. I have met some incredible people as guests on my podcast, Unleashing Brilliance. The opportunities that these initial conversations have led to have been insane.
Pick up that phone. Send that email. Reach out. Just do it.
Until next week