7 Reasons Networking Can Be A Professional Development Boot CampJun 01, 2012
How many times do you say to yourself that you need to meet more people? That your circle of influence needs to be strengthened? That your skills and talents have yet to be discovered? Your career requires you to network and in today's marketplace you must be more active than ever. But networking requires planning. An approach that is strategic and measurable; that you can learn from each time you introduce yourself to a new crowd or reacquaint yourself with an old one. If you are strategic and view networking through an opportunity lens, it can serve as a powerful professional development boot camp experience.
Networking demands that you test your ideas, hone your ability to communicate and improve your executive presence. Networking is a full-time job and the more time you dedicate to it - the more you will learn what works for you and against you. The more you procrastinate, the more you will find yourself disconnected from the opportunities that may potentially advance your career or allow you to meet the right people. Procrastination will take you back a few steps and you will lose the competitive edge that comes with meeting new people, gathering knowledge, and observing others that have mastered networking.
Networking is not easy. For some, it's like having to take a required class in college that you had no interest in, but had to complete in order to graduate. Remember, in business and in life - success is earned from learning how to do things that you don't like doing.
Networking requires 100% commitment. You don't need to be naturally outspoken to be successful in networking environments. However, you do need to be prepared to deliver value when called upon. In other words, when it's your turn to say something - make it count.
Networking is a responsibility and it requires active behavior. You must be extremely engaged about what others are saying. It's not about you, but about how well you integrate your voice and perspectives into conversations. What matters most to those who are listening? Your audience will serve to help you connect the dots of opportunity and potentially act as an enabler for you.
The best networking takes place when you don't know the title or influence of those you are networking with. Most people don't like networking because they don't feel safe in environments where you are forced to meet new people - especially those who may serve in roles of greater influence and power.
But when you are focused on communicating with a person and not a title - it always amazes me how confident people grow. At one conference, I remember participating in a discussion that included several highly influential senior executives. In the group, there was a younger person who wasn't aware of the titles that the people in the conversation held.
This person was funny, shared great stories and was highly articulate. When she asked for our business cards, she realized that one of the people in the group was a CEO of a Fortune 100 company. She quickly responded in shock and began to apologize for her opinionated and outspoken behavior. Though she felt obligated to apologize, there was no need to do so.
When we are just ourselves, we are most natural in how we express our points of view. We are most effective at communicating and establishing a positive first impression. Hierarchy or rank shouldn't define your approach and style; it should only make you more aware of the types of topics or issues that should be discussed.
Networking is both an art and a science. But in the end - networking should be fun, exciting and a rewarding approach to advancement. The more you network - with a positive outlook - the more you will learn. And if you're always learning, you are growing and thus developing yourself - especially your interpersonal communication skills. Once you have become a pro at networking, you can begin to share your experiences, tips and tricks with others.
Here are 7 reasons networking can become a powerful professional development boot camp.
While in a networking environment, you can learn a tremendous amount from others. The power of observation is in full force. Think of networking as a focus group. Be aware of what works best for you and what doesn't. Learn how to improve by observing those around you.
#2: You Must Always Be Ready.
Networking can't be forced. If you try to force it, it rarely goes anywhere. Engaging in dialogue with new people requires you to be quick on your feet and ready for responses and reactions to the conversations around you. If you are caught off guard, you may find yourself in an uncomfortable situation. Be active and ready for engagement. You are either an active networker or not. There is nothing in the middle. We know what happens when people fall asleep at the wheel.
#3: Take Notes While You Network.
Just as when you are being trained for something, retention comes from taking good notes. Gather intelligence about yourself and others. Think of yourself as part of a think-tank. Be diligent and take note of what you are contributing and how you can improve. I have learned that people take notice when you are taking notes and it opens the door for more spontaneous conversations.
#4: Ask Non-Traditional Questions.
When you are being trained, you may be asked to apply new knowledge to a situational analysis. This is a great way to apply what you have learned immediately to a real life scenario. In networking, apply your knowledge in the form of non-traditional questions. Get people to discover something deeper about what you know by asking them a question they wouldn't expect. For example, at a conference I once spoke following a world renowned economist, who was presenting his views regarding economic recovery. Before I took the stage, there was short break and we found ourselves in the green room together. So I asked him the following question: "How can we all be so optimistic about economic recovering when we - the people in the United States - have not been taught how to survive?" A non-traditional question led to a relationship that remains strong to this day.
#5: Put Your Personal Brand to the Test.
Networking is a discovery platform and a great way to give your personal brand more exposure. Always be prepared to unleash your identity so that others will remember you. Be careful that you are not overly deliberate or focused solely on self-promotion. But seize the opportunity, too. When you walk away from the conversation, those around you should know the following about your personal brand:
- Your enduring idea.
- What differentiates you from others.
- The experience you leave behind.
- Whom you serve.
#6: Continue the Conversation.
If the dialogue and exchange were worthwhile, invite those you have met to continue the conversation. This can be done both onsite and online (or both). To get started, send a follow-up email with a link to an article or whitepaper that supports something they were interested in. Or you can expand upon your conversation by sending a presentation that showcases your unique point of view while supporting their ideas and ideals.
Reconnect at lunch, invite them to another networking function, or get connected online via LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, Facebook or another favorite social networking tool. You can also invite them to join your LinkedIn or Facebook group. The point is that in taking the lead to continue the conversation, you are the catalyst for opportunity. You are testing the longer term relationship that can form from the networking encounter.
#7: Hold Yourself Accountable.
And finally: Follow-up, follow-up, follow-up. Each conversation is an opportunity and only you can gauge it. Think of yourself as a project manager responsible for identifying the next steps, who is responsible for what, and defining the outcomes and desired results. Being accountable will help you to sustain the momentum that you have built up in the first six steps.
Author: Glenn Llopis, Contributor