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If business networking feels similar to blind dating – a dreadful, awkward activity that you subject yourself to with the hopes of creating connections – you may be going at it with the wrong approach. Here are three easy steps to help you connect like a pro with other businesspeople, as well as potential clients or customers.
Make the first move
Expert networkers are known for their ability to fearlessly strike up a conversation with anyone. Seek out an individual who is standing alone and engage them in conversation. It’s as simple as introducing yourself and saying: “Hi! I’m new to this event and I don’t know anyone. What about you?” This honest introduction is an easy way to break the ice and start a conversation.
Bonus tip: Always do more listening than talking. Instead of interjecting with your own advice or similar struggles during a conversation with a new contact, ask questions about how they handled their situation. Not only will this show them that you are engaged in what they have to say, but you may also learn a new strategy for tackling a problem.
Give and you shall receive
Far too often, people go into business networking events with the “what can you do for me” mindset. Instead, try to focus on what you can do to further the success of others. If you can’t personally help, try to make connections between your new contacts and your existing contacts. When you invest in the success of others, they will be happy to return the favor whenever possible.
Bonus tip: Use this “giving” approach with your existing connections by asking how you can help them achieve their goals. Most of the time your help will be unneeded, but the action will be appreciated and remembered in the future should you ever need to call in a favor.
Don’t forget the follow-up
One of the most important, yet sorely overlooked aspects of business networking is follow-up. After a networking event, send a personal email to each of your new connections. Be sure to summarize your conversation and request a second meeting to learn more about one another. If you said you would take action in some way, give them an update and be sure to follow through on your promise.
Bonus tip: Don’t wait too long to follow up with your new connection. If possible, contact people within 24 hours of meeting them so that your conversation is still fresh in their mind. This will also show that you take the opportunity to work with them seriously and you are eager to get started.
While these tips may not help you with blind dates, they can make a positive impact on your networking skills. Now, grab a hefty stack of business cards – with this new networking strategy, you are going to need them!
This article originally appeared in Security Nation, 2013, Vol. 1.