Love it or hate it, networking is an important part of business and career development. In an increasingly insular, digital world, face-to-face conversation is somewhat of a lost art and daunting for some, outright terrifying for others. Effective networking is a skill and a powerful tool for building business relationships. If your go-to move at a networking or business event is to shake hands, introduce yourself and your business, pass out a business card and then walk away only to repeat the same song and dance throughout the engagement, read on. Think of any business engagement as an opportunity to expand your network of contacts and connections, but also an opportunity to develop your personal brand. Be genuine and be yourself; people prefer authentic connections. The following tips will help you connect with purpose and make the right impression at a business function.

1. Drop the Sales Pitch
The purpose of networking is to connect with new colleagues and build relationships, not to overtly sell yourself. Avoid self-promotional or boastful jargon in favour of more natural, meaningful conversation. Mention achievements and successes if the conversation allows, but when doing so, reflect on learnings and how the experience shaped your future endeavours, and not just to brag. Keep your exchange easy and enjoyable; when meeting someone new, the idea is to casually start a conversation and see where it goes from there

2. Ask Questions
When meeting someone new, one of the most effective ways to establish a genuine connection is to ask questions. Asking questions not only shows a genuine interest in the person’s experiences, but can provide valuable insights into your industry or career path. It’s important that the questions you ask be thoughtful and not too intrusive; use this opportunity to learn more about your colleague and set a solid foundation for follow-up and future conversations. Asking questions helps form a genuine connection, makes you more memorable and your interaction more meaningful.

3. Listen
Let’s not forget that networking is a skill, and skills become more acute with practice. To be an effective conversationalist requires conscious communication. Be a listener, not a talker, and guide the discussion accordingly. Listen to what your colleague is saying without losing focus by getting caught up with what you’ll say next. Looking your colleague in the eye and repeating their name are simple yet powerful ways to make your colleague feel respected and appreciated. Some of the most successful networkers are skilled at making others feel special and value.

4. Share Your Passion
Networking presents an opportunity to develop and define your personal brand which can inspire a memorable conversation between colleagues. Your interests, skills and assets, and the ways in which these inform your identity not only shape who you are as a person, but who you are in the workplace. Speak with enthusiasm about your work, and weave in anecdotes that reference your interests. Talking about the things you enjoy allows your counterpart to share their passions too, which makes for an enjoyable, authentic exchange.

5. Follow-Up
Passing your contact information to just anyone that you meet can seem forced and unnatural. If you’ve had a great conversation with a new colleague, share your contact info and open the door to future communication. If you’ve made a new, genuine connection, connect on LinkedIn or reach out by phone or email. It’s best to follow-up within 48 hours of the exchange so your connection is still fresh in your colleague’s mind. If possible, reference something you both discussed to make the exchange more personable. Remember, networking is where the conversation starts, not where it ends.

Great Networking Questions:

How did you get involved in your industry?
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Did you always want to work in your field?
What advice would you give someone just starting out in your industry?
How has your industry changed or How do you foresee your industry changing in the future?