May 31, 2024

Professional Development

10 Rules for Networking: Build Meaningful Connections (Part I)

By: Leah Nalepa

10 Rules for Networking: Build Meaningful Connections (Part 1)

Most people cringe when they initially hear the word networking. There’s often a negative connotation that is associate with that word which translates to “meaningless transaction.” While this may be true of some people, I argue that networking is not only a crucial skill to acquire, but having that skill allows for meaningful connections to be made, opening doors to new opportunities, relationships, and growth. 

Unlike the transactional nature that some associate networking with, successful networking isn’t just about collecting business cards or LinkedIn connections; it’s about building genuine, mutually beneficial relationships. 

Here are 10 essential relationship-building tips to follow for your next networking event:

1. Be Authentic: If there is anything to take away from this post, it’s to be authentic. Many people feel the same way you do and are more likely to connect with and remember you if you are genuine and sincere. Be yourself, share your true interests and passions. While “fake it til you make it” may help initially, eventually the facade fades. Stick to your true self so others get to know the real you.

2. Listen Actively: Effective networking is as much about listening as it is about talking. In a world where audience engagement is prized, genuine listening is a skill that’s faded in the background, but one that shouldn’t be forgotten. Repeating what they said, asking thoughtful questions, making eye contact, and providing feedback show real interest in the topic and that you value their input. Active listening also helps build rapport and trust.

3. Be Prepared: Do your homework beforehand. To the best of your ability, know who will be there, what they do, and what you hope to achieve from the interaction. Having a clear understanding of your goals and the people you want to connect with will help you make the most of your networking opportunities, especially if your goal is coalition building. 

4. Follow Up: Where people often make a mistake in networking is the follow through. Relationships are not built on one connection. Connect on LinkedIn, send an email, or follow up with a text expressing your appreciation for the conversation. Try setting up an in-person coffee meeting or Zoom call to build a more personal connection outside the group networking event. 

5. Provide Value: Networking is a two-way street. Focus on what you can offer to others rather than what you can gain from them. This helps alleviate the transactional nature of networking, and provides value to others. Share your knowledge, skills, and resources to help others achieve their goals. By doing this, you build goodwill and establish yourself as a valuable and reliable contact.

6. Be Respectful of Time: Everyone’s time is valuable. Be mindful of how much time you spend talking to someone and make sure the conversation is mutually beneficial. If you’re reaching out to someone for the first time, be concise and clear about your intentions and respect their availability.

7. Dress Appropriately: Your appearance can make a lasting impression. Dress appropriately for the occasion, whether it’s a formal business event, a casual meetup, or a virtual networking session. Presenting yourself well shows that you respect the event and the people you’re meeting.

8. Exit Gracefully: If the conversation is dwindling or you need to speak with someone else at the event, don’t stand there awkwardly or simply walk away. Kindly excuse yourself from the conversation, thank them for their time, and ask for a way to stay connected if the conversation went well. Don’t lie when using an excuse to leave – everyone knows you’re there to meet people.    

9. Use Social Media Wisely: Social media platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, and even Facebook can be powerful tools for networking. Use these platforms to connect with industry professionals, share relevant content, and engage in meaningful conversations. However, be mindful of your online presence and ensure that it reflects your professional image.

10. Be Patient: Building a strong network takes time and effort. Don’t expect immediate results or instant benefits from your networking efforts. I have seen relationships I’ve maintained over the years pay dividends much past the time I initially met the individuals. Be patient, persistent, and consistent in nurturing your relationships. Over time, your network will grow and yield valuable opportunities.

Mastering the art of networking involves a combination of authenticity, preparation, and follow-up. Consider networking another avenue of building meaningful relationships with strangers that can become friends at best or allies at worst. Networking is not just about making contacts—it’s about building relationships that can lead to lasting opportunities, potential friendships, and success.