Face-to-face communication is the most natural and powerful form of interaction. Knowing how to meet, influence, and connect with people is a crucial skill in any time or place. By following these simple networking tips you'll be able to unlock the opportunities and experiences that only other people can offer you.
Know why networking is important.
Ask any successful person how they got to their position and you'll find they've had help from other people. As much as we'd like to think that our talent or creativity will lead directly to the good life, no one can make it alone. Without the right guidance and connections you could be the world's smartest person and still end up as a doorman at a bar.
All of the world's knowledge, money, and fame is contained within the people you see around you every day. Networking is about forming connections with people so that you can get more of whatever you're looking for, directly or indirectly. It's about seeing the value in other people.
Give your tongue a workout.
The most important part of networking is conversation. Even if you're not a master of charisma, you can still learn to become an effective and persuasive communicator through study and practice.
Start random conversations with people around you, or get more serious by trying Toastmasters, an organization dedicated to helping people become effective speakers through group practice and feedback. Any method of getting yourself used to awkwardness, criticism, embarrassment, and even rejection is good for you.
Study human interaction.
Maybe you'd prefer to ease your way into the whole "speaking" thing. Numerous self-help books are available, and many really can help. Perhaps the all-time most popular is How to Win Friends and Influence People, a simple and enjoyable guide to conversation that memorably teaches essentials like "smile" and "be a listener, not just a talker." Public speaking books like In the Spotlight are also good - but remember that networking is about two-way conversation, not giving speeches.
Get the knack of the nonverbal.
There's much more to conversation than just spoken words. Nonverbal cues like gestures, expressions, eye contact and posture all play huge roles. There's a lot to master, but these five guidelines are key:
- Make eye contact. It shows you're paying attention, confident, and not hiding anything.
- Give firm, warm handshakes. People make judgments based on handshakes. A vice-like grip is overbearing; a limp touch can seem weak. A good handshake is firm, confident, warm, and dry - nobody likes sweaty or clammy hands.
- Direct your body forward. Directly face the person you're talking to. If you're sitting, lean a bit forward. This conveys full interest and attention. It shows you care.
- Perfect your posture. Good posture is associated with confidence, status, and attentiveness. Stand up straight; slouching makes you seem tired or bored.
- Use your hands. Hand gestures reinforce and emphasize what you're saying. But don't cross your arms: you'll appear standoffish, defensive or angry - even if it's just because the air conditioning is cranked too high.
Your time is limited; focus your efforts. Seek out individuals and groups you stand to gain from, whether it's to learn to learn a new skill or find a job opportunity. Your goal is to connect with people who can recognize your value and talent, so look for shared interests, backgrounds, and qualities. But don't be too narrow-minded; the best encounters often happen by chance.
Place yourself in situations that have the sort of people you want to interact with and where it's socially acceptable to strike up a conversation. Organizations, clubs, and interest groups are a great place to network. If you're trying to land a job as a photographer: join an industry group, photo club, or artists' collective. If you need help finding the right spots then don't be afraid to ask; asking questions is a good way to network.
Let others know who you are.
People need to know and remember you before they'll give you what you're looking for. The more memorable and approachable you can make yourself the better, so find ways to be unique and stand out without being odd.
One trick is to always wear a name tag. When people know your name they're more likely to talk to and remember you.
Be a friend.
Friendship and kindness will almost always take you farther than the alternatives. It's simple, really: people like doing things for people they like. Be enthusiastic and proactive about starting conversations and you'll be off to a good start. Many people are shy, but they appreciate someone who takes the initiative to approach them.
Next, be a good listener. Ask questions about neutral topics - their hometown, hobbies, hot spots in the city - and try your best to genuinely care about other people and their interests. There's no better way to make a person feel important than to care about what they think. Everyone is good or interesting in some way, so focus on the positives; where appropriate, compliment them. When you get the other person talking you can find the mutual interests and experiences that form valuable bonds.
Go offline and get out there.
While e-mail and the latest social web sites are nice modes of interaction, real-world interpersonal skills are timelessly relevant. Looking for a job? Over 70% are found through networking among people we know in everyday life, like friends and family. Looking for a friend? You might find one while networking; strong friendships are a healthy side-effect of making contact. Jane Howard once said, "Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one." It's crucial advice for success - both in business and in life.