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In a perfect world, networking would be effortless. Every conversation would be productive, and everyone would think you are the most charismatic person alive. But the reality is that networking has always been—and will always be—a little awkward. Hands get clammy, armpits get sweaty, and lips get dry.
Unfortunately, there is no magic potion to fix this. You just have to go for it. But be reassured that you do not have to be perfect to start networking. If you think about it, we all network every day, from meeting new people to talking to classmates. Imagine asking for a restaurant recommendation. It may not be the same as connecting with a hiring manager or valuable clients, but you are still leveraging social connections to meet a goal (getting good food).
So, start your journey knowing that you can network and that, with practice, you can become an excellent networker. For advice on where to begin, try working on these three parts of a networking interaction:
- Initiating the conversation
Do not wait for an opportunity to network. Create it yourself. Start the conversation by making a powerful observation—here is an exercise you can try as practice:
First, picture someone you know as clearly as you can. Focus on their clothes, accessories, tone of voice, and body language. Try using these cues to form a question tailored for the situation. For example, you might refer to an accessory they’re wearing and ask, “Where did you get that?”
Usually, questions like this prompt one of three responses: a short and direct answer, a story behind the item, or no idea. No matter the answer, follow up the same way: Share the response you thought you would get. Or describe what your question means to you. You can also try other ways to share a bit about what piqued your interest so long as it’s related to their response and the topic at hand. The point is to offer information in a personal and authentic way.
Gauge their interest when they respond to this. If they seem engaged, keep going. (If they don’t, you have the discretion to ask a new question or leave them be.)
Congratulations on starting the conversation!
- Making the pitch
You have the steak and it’s time to sizzle. Your moment to pitch has finally arrived. Try delivering your pitch like a story, which means it needs a beginning, middle, and end.
It may sound silly to pretend you are telling a story, but it works. Having a structure like this allows you to make several points while staying easy to follow. Pay attention to how and where you are communicating your key points and think about foreshadowing, plot twists, and big reveals. Here’s a way to design your pitch:
The beginning should include advantages or exciting opportunities to grab their attention and interest. You can pose a question, a shocking statement, an interesting fact, or a quote. Whatever you do, be engaging as you deliver the pitch, so no one starts to snore. An easy way to do this is to forget you are delivering a pitch! Use hand gestures, vary your tone, and look at the person you are talking to.
Next is the middle, an important area to create value. Relate the advantage or opportunity to what they get out of the deal. People are more likely to do something you ask of them when there is something in it for them. So, consider which needs or wants you can fulfill (there are lists online if you need ideas) and weave them into the pitch.
Finally, recap your points and only introduce new ones if they support what you said in the beginning and middle. The end is meant to reaffirm what you said and make the listener want more. One way to do this is reveal only select information: enough to hook their interest but not so much you have nothing to show later. At the end of the pitch, offer a way to satisfy their curiosity. For example, you can say, “If you are interested, I can send you my report or samples.” After all, curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back.
- Following up
No matter the outcome of the conversation, ask for a way to stay connected before you part ways. An email, phone number, or social account can go a long way. However, be wary of assuming how they will communicate with you. Assumptions create limitations. Try using an open-ended question like “I’d love to connect again later. How would you prefer I reach you?”
Networking isn’t always instantaneous. This means you will likely have to maintain a relationship with the person to be considered for an opportunity. You can start this by following up shortly after the conversation.
Let them know you enjoyed talking to them. Maybe even recap what you talked about. Add some details that will help them remember you since memory isn’t perfect: To recall something, we need details to latch onto. So, be sure to mention when and where you spoke, what you talked about, or a direct quote of what they said. This can be difficult to get right because you have to tailor the details to what they might remember, but believe in yourself.
Once you’ve established a baseline connection, it’s time to add a call to action—this is what you want them to do for you. It’s simply intended to keep them invested in further developing a relationship with you. If this is the first time you have contacted them, then the action needs to be quick and easy. Some great calls to action are reading something less than 300 words, responding, or adding you on relevant social media.
The final word
Practice, practice, practice. The best way to learn how to network is to start networking. There will be no perfect time. You just have to take that first step. The results may surprise you.
Photos by Pierre Châtel-Innocenti on Unsplash