Mastering the Art of Networking: Strategies for Building Meaningful Professional Connections

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Love it or hate it, networking is an indispensable requirement of professional life. These 12 tips will help you master the dark art successfully.

Networking is about more than the ability to make small talk and put people at their ease – although that is a big part of it. To master the art of networking, preparation and strategy are also advantageous, especially if you’re nervous.

Here are our tips on how to master the art of networking.


#1. Prepare yourself

Events will be less intimidating if you can speak confidently about yourself. Think about who you want to meet and why.

Practice an elevator pitch for yourself that will appeal to your target audience. It should last around a minute, be clear about what you do and what you can offer but include enough of a tease or interest to inspire follow-up questions.


#2. Choose the right event

You can network with people wherever you are. Indeed, practice is always beneficial. However, industry events and conferences are the best way to meet people in your professional sphere.

Business expert Dr Byron Cole suggests that three networking events per month is sufficient; he recommends that you know in advance the next three events you’ll be attending.


#3. Prepare for the event

Before the event, read the agenda and speaker details. Plan some ice-breaker questions that you can lead with when introducing yourself to other guests.

Pack some business cards to share with people with whom you make a connection. Use the cards to showcase your professional abilities. You could consider using folding cards if you need to include imagery to showcase your work. Such cards can be another conversation starter and make you more memorable.


#4. Network beforehand

Dorie Clark at Harvard Business Review recommends reaching out to fellow guests ahead of time. He says, “My number on strategy is proactively organizing my own events outside the conference. For instance, I’ll set up a dinner either the night before or one evening when there are no official events. I’ll scrutinize the list of attendees in advance and send out invitations, and most people are very happy to be invited because it takes the pressure off of them to plan a social event, and they know that they’re going to have the opportunity to interact with other interesting conference-goers. It’s a great way to get quality time with the people I want to meet and add value to our connection.”


#5. Dress to impress

Present yourself to your best advantage – but be authentic. At the very least, your new contacts want to know that you can dress appropriately for a business situation.

Dr Cole recommends, “If in doubt about a dress code, overdress. You’ll be more memorable that way.”


#6. Arrive on time

As well as being respectful to the event organizers, arriving early can help you make connections with other guests. It’s much more difficult to start a conversation with people who are already busy networking.


#7. Approach people with a smile

Gracefully entering and exiting conversations is an art that can be mastered with practice. The more you practice, the more confident you will feel.

Approaching one person who is not already engaged in conversation is ideal. You can start up a conversation with even the most mundane question, such as “what did you think of the last speaker?” or “which is your favorite appetizer?”

Interrupting two people who are talking is not a good idea because they may well be engaged in a more intense conversation. Larger groups can be easier to join – but be sure to introduce yourself or, if appropriate, shake hands with everyone in the group so that no one feels left out.


#8. Listen attentively

Networking is about listening to others – possibly more than it is about talking about yourself. Actively listen when people tell them about themselves and ask follow-up questions. It’s about taking every opportunity to uncover insights and make a connection.

What’s more, writes Sheryl Nance-Nash in Diversity Woman, by giving others the opportunity to speak first, “People are more receptive to your message because they aren’t thinking about what they want to talk about – they’ve already said it.”


#9. Be generous

Share your expertise, insights, connections and knowledge generously and without expecting anything in return. It isn’t just about helping others – it will establish you as someone who can help and be trusted. You can establish yourself as a valuable resource within your network.


#10. Look for opportunities to help

Can you help to introduce someone who is looking for a new position to a potential employer? Do you have connections that could assist a new contact with a project or proposal?

Larry Benet of the Speakers and Authors Networking Group recommends that you “Give first and don’t expect anything back from others. Give to givers because it’s nice to do business with those types of people. Connect the dots and create value for others.”

As the saying goes, “A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.”


#11. Follow up after the event

If you promised to help someone or someone expressed an interest in helping you, make sure you follow up with them after the event in a timely manner. Acting swiftly shows that you can be relied upon to follow up on promises.

Following up with the contacts you make isn’t a one-time thing. Reach out regularly to add value and nurture the relationship.


#12. Learn from what works – and what doesn’t

The more you practice the art of networking, the better and more confident you will become.

Learn from what you do. At the end of every month, look back at the events you attended and see which worked the best for you. Which did you enjoy? Why? Where did you make useful connections?

Do more of the events that work for you and fewer of those you didn’t enjoy. Try new things and be open to new ideas.

Judge yourself on the quality of connections you make, rather than the quantity. There are no prizes for having the biggest network. Concentrate instead on adding value. By nurturing a few key connections, you can deepen the relationship.


What next?

You can find more business and networking tips elsewhere on our blog: