By Emily Ching
Whether you are trying to develop your career by building new business relationships, making offline personal connections has become even more critical as online social networking becomes the norm. People often either like or hate it. Increasingly more people feel comfortable engaging with others online rather than in person. However, face-to-face networking is an extremely valuable skill to cultivate if you want to build strong relationships with potential investors, clients, mangers, employees or partners.
During my years in the commercial real estate business back in the 1990s, I often had to attend many social functions such as industry conventions and commerce association luncheons. These provided me opportunities to obtain real estate development information or meet important people whom were valuable for the success of projects.
It was not easy at the beginning. I am a natural introvert and felt incredibly shy and nervous whenever I approached strangers. Then I observed how more experienced people interacted with others. As I followed their example, my self-confidence grew.
Based on my own experiences, I have found the following tips useful in improving one’s presence when stepping into a room of potential clients or business partners.
Ask yourself “What do I want out of the event?”
Some networking events are based more on learning and making contacts rather than on strictly making business connections. Identify what you want out of the networking event so that you can keep your conversations focused.
Networking is about being genuine, sincere, and building trusted relationships by seeing how you can help others. It is a great opportunity to promote yourself and let people remember you.
Ask open-ended questions
Focus on finding out about the other person: what they do and what their business does. By asking open-ended questions beginning with What, How, Where and When, you obtain more information from which to move conversations along.
Exit conversations gracefully
Whether you are speaking with someone who won’t let you get a word in or someone who is wasting time complaining about something, always be polite when ending a conversation. For instance you may say: “Please let me know how that thing goes, I’d love to hear how it turns out.” By making such statements, you demonstrate you listened to them and were engaged in the conversation, while wanting to end the conversation. The other party should not feel offended.
You never build great friendships in just one meeting. You build friendships over time. Professional relationships are the same. So don’t expect your networking to pay off within a few weeks or months, it can take years before you see a return. Stay positive and happy networking.
Senior Consultant, Crescendo Communications Consulting