Networking Do’s And Don’ts
I have been involved in the workers’ compensation industry now for over 30 years! Sometimes that’s hard to believe! In the last week, I attended two events: the Spring Forum on Workers’ Compensation in Orlando and also Speed Mentoring & Networking, an Alliance of Women in Workers’ Compensation event in Orlando. At both of these events, I had an opportunity to put my networking skills to good use. I am often asked, “How do you network?” or “What is the right way to network professionally?” I usually respond with something like there really is no right or wrong way, you just need to put yourself out there and do it frequently in order to grow your network.
Since the question has come up so often in the last few months, and because I realize I do spend a great deal of my time networking for business, I decided to tackle the topic head-on and realized there are some, ahem “rules.”
I myself often feel awkward and/or catch myself breaking all kinds of rules. I have always been a “color outside the lines” kind of girl. I can’t help it. It’s just who I am. So, I’ve taken some time to put together some basic do’s and don’ts that should be helpful to even the most seasoned networkers out there. NOTE: we all need to do it…from newbies to the top experts in our industry.
Regardless of the reason for your professional networking, some basic do’s and don’ts apply:
- Know and practice your elevator pitch! This is a 20-second delivery of who you are and what you do and the company you represent.
- Be open to approach. What does that mean? Be friendly, smile, make eye contact, be respectful, be polite, be professional.
- Ask open-ended questions. Your questions should be geared to getting to know the person you are talking to (not what they can do for you or your business).
- Practice active listening. Show genuine interest. Really listen and don’t let your mind wander, think about what you are going to say next or some other random thought. This takes focus and lots of practice.
- Manage expectations. Try not to be so concerned with what the person can or can’t do for you. Your goal should be to make solid connections with people with whom you can develop a lasting professional relationship; your #1 goal is to create new relationships!
- Avoid controversy. This one is hard for me. I like to push the envelope. As a general rule, though, when meeting new people, you should avoid controversial, sensitive or provocative topics.
- DON’T hang out with friends! This one is hard for everyone. We like to hang out with people we know. However, to be great at networking, you have to put yourself out there! Outside your comfort zone, that is.
- Don’t interrupt deep conversations. Another one I’m guilty of because I often am managing, organizing or running an event, so it kind of comes naturally to me to interrupt folks. If I have done this to you, please forgive me.
- Don’t babble on. Know when to stop talking. Don’t put too much weight/effort into a brief conversation. It is okay to let it be brief. Haha. This is another one that I struggle with personally. I often keep talking either because I’m nervous or because I’m mentally invested in a topic. It’s something I need to work on. My colleagues and mentors have reminded me of this lately. Thank you friends for keeping me on my toes!
- Don’t get discouraged. If something doesn’t go the way you planned, take a deep breath and keep at it. We all have our off moments or days. Keep practicing, keep putting yourself out there and keep going to events. I’d love to hear your thoughts on professional networking. As a marketing consultant whose livelihood depends on making and maintaining relationships, this is my craft. As busy, working professionals, we have to push ourselves to have quality conversations and maintain our relationships.
Do you have any tips or networking hacks you’d like to share?