Networking Tips: Turning Strangers into Acquaintances
When it comes to building a professional network, I’ll take quality over quantity any day.
That’s why you won’t find me soliciting strangers to join my professional network. (Contrary to popular belief, there is no prize for the person who collects the most names.)
So how do you build a quality professional network? Attitude and opportunity have a lot to do it.
Years ago, when I started traveling for business I assumed that “networking” was something you did at an event. The event’s opening reception would be my cue for flipping on the networking switch. Likewise, I’d flip the switch back off as soon as the event ended.
It was naïve of me to box networking opportunities into a specific start and end time. I treated networking like it was a special occasion dress; I’d put it on and wear it well, then hang it up at the end of night.
I missed out on opportunities to meet people that I could have helped and those that could have helped me. I’m glad to say that I’ve matured in my thinking and networking is now part of my everyday attire.
I must point out that networking doesn’t require business travel. Networking starts with taking a genuine interest in the people around you.
That means from the time you step into the public forum until the time you return home. The opportunities are abundant. Too often we shut out everyone around us and choose to put up virtual walls. To be good at networking you need to develop authentic people skills.
Here are a few tips that never go out of style.
What is your body language saying? Be open for spontaneous encounters. Unplug from the electronic devices, look up, and make eye contact with those around you. You never know when you are in the presence of a potential prospect, customer, employer, or colleague. Make sure the vibes you give off are the ones that represent you well.
A smile is the easiest way to enhance your appearance. It brightens your face, softens your eyes, and conveys confidence.
Don’t be a party of one
Put yourself among other people. Meal breaks are ideal times to make new connections with people. I’ve met some great contacts by sharing a dining table with other travelers. You can either sit alone and talk to no one, or you can put yourself in the ideal location to engage with those around you.
Start a conversation with a question
Questions are easy conversation starters once you get past the first hello. Have you attended this conference before? Are you traveling for business or pleasure? What line of work are you in? “That is so interesting, tell me how you got started!” Once the conversation is started you can guide the direction of it from there.
Following through is most important. Sending an email thanking someone for the great conversation on the long journey home is memorable. Passing along relevant information to further the conversation is often a great next step. Facilitating an introduction between your new acquaintance and someone that could help them is priceless.
I’ve met some truly amazing people while traveling to and from business events. I’ve also made valuable connections during my day-to-day work life.
Most of the conversations are not even started by me. People want to make a connection with others and will seek out those that look like they will listen and care — so be that person!