I recently had a chance to speak to a group of high school students at the National Inventors Hall of Fame Stem School in Akron, Ohio. They were pitching their entrepreneurial ideas as well as learning more about how to think like an entrepreneur. I was asked to lead a session on networking and wanted to leave a list of tips to help these students in their endeavors. Keep in mind that these tips were designed for high school students, but I thought they could be applicable to anyone wishing to be a better networker.
- Wear your nametag on the right. That way, when you shake someone’s hand, you are looking the direction of their nametag.
- Have a firm handshake, or know the proper greeting custom. In the United States, a handshake is most common. In other cultures and countries, a bow, nod or other greeting may be more appropriate.
- Move around the room – don’t get stuck with one person or group.You are there to network and meet new people. You can always talk with friends and colleagues. Meet new people and learn knew things. And, if you get stuck talking to a person who is taking all of your time, find a good and polite way to exit the conversation.
- Have a purpose and plan. Who do you want to meet? What do you want to learn? A common mistake of networking is that people don’t have a plan. Know your audience. Think about what you want to accomplish while you are there.
- Don’t mistake networking for not working. Some people are serial networkers and in effect are not workers. This means they spend more time out of the office “networking” and looking busy, but are not in the office enough to get things done.
- Be likeable. It sounds pretty simple, but how many times have you been at an event and there is an obnoxious, overbearing person there. Don’t be that person.
- Follow up if asked. Again, this sounds simple too. But if someone you meet asks you to follow up with them. Do it.
- Be interesting AND interested. People want to talk to interesting people. They also want to be heard. So, balance the conversation with interesting information and listen attentively when others are talking.
- Know the kind of networking you are doing – strategic vs. general. I think there are two types of networking – general and strategic – and both are important. General networking helps get your name and your company name out there. Strategic networking usually has a purpose, like building partnerships with others in compatible industries. Try to incorporate both into your business plans.
- Use your manners. No one likes the person who chews with their mouth open, spills coffee on themselves or is more interested in the buffet than the people in the room.
Proper networking techniques have helped me immensely throughout my career. I’ve met great people who have turned into strong vendor partners. I’ve met my insurance agent, financial adviser and accountant that way. I have also generated important business leads and just met some great people along the way.
Hopefully you can incorporate some of these tips into your own networking! Good luck!