Keeping it real: the secrets of offline networking
The point isn’t just to build connections but to build strong connections.
Powerful networking requires offline investment, too. Jacqueline Whitmore, Matthew Toren and Ivan Misner offer important advice in terms of offline networking as Entrepreneur.com contributors.
Whitmore suggests hosting a networking event by starting a Meetup group or a dinner party centered around a specific purpose or shared interest. You might volunteer at charities to meet people that share your values. Whitmore encourages you to speak to strangers whenever you can and find ways to help them out in some way. You can connect with others before you attend an event by checking social networks to see who else may be attending and sending them a message. And Whitmore stresses that the strongest networks are made up of people from different but related fields. Is there someone you can collaborate with to increase the value of what you both offer to others?
Toren’s advice concerns common networking mistakes. Making connections with others requires that you listen more than talk. You become more interesting to people in this way and they will want to know more about you if you don’t start out “presenting” yourself at the outset in an arrogant or obvious way.
It’s also not a good idea to focus on major influencers at the outset of an event. There are many valuable connections in the people that you don’t know and they may just provide the in you need to talk with desirable contacts. That doesn’t mean, however, that you shouldn’t eventually try to get involved in conversations with such influencers: it just means that zooming in on someone of import can be viewed as aggressive and self-serving.
You should be prepared to share your elevator pitch with others if they become interested. Not being prepared is another common mistake. Toren stresses that your story delivery must be tailored to the conversation. The best network connections occur when you and the person you are talking to can find benefits from sharing ideas and information.
Ivan Misner talks about how important the relationship is in terms of strong network contacts. The point isn’t just to build connections but to build strong connections. When you really get to know someone and they really get to know you, the social capital you build is strong and they’re much more likely to give you great referrals rather than shallow ones. This social capital requires investment on your part. Misner likens it to money in the bank: you have to make deposits in order to make withdrawals.
When you have strong social capital in a relationship, you trust the person and their work; you’ve known them for at least a year; you know both their personal and professional goals and you understand what they do to the point that you can truly explain this to others. Misner says that in a strong relationship, you would feel comfortable calling them at 9.00pm to ask a favour; you enjoy getting together on some kind of regular basis; and you’ve both offered help to each other in some way in the past.
Providing help or value to someone else doesn’t always mean that you’ve done work for them for free: making a social capital “deposit” might mean that your ideas have triggered ideas for them, your insight has helped them improve in some way or that you’ve connected them with a contact or resource that betters their lives.
What have you done for your network contacts lately? Are you making connections in real time rather than only online?
By: Oskana Tashakova
The writer is an executive coach and HR training and evelopment expert. She can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org or www.academiaofhumanpotential.com. Views expressed are her own and do not reflect the newspaper’s policy
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