You know that networking is key to everything from growing your career to landing a job. But let’s face it; many of us dread doing it. It can feel awkward and forced, and we don’t always know the best way to approach it.
Which is why we asked some of today’s top entrepreneurs, thought leaders, speakers and bloggers what they consider the secret to networking success. Their answers were varied, thought-provoking, and great field notes for your next networking event, office party or even coffee run.
So get a pen and get ready to start jotting…
Ash Ambirge, Founder of The Middle Finger Project (@TMFProject)
Make the other person feel important. Ask them questions about themselves, and then actually LISTEN.
Corbett Barr, Creator of The Sparkline (@corbettbarr)
Always offer to help people in very specific ways using your best talents and be quick to approach people, before your little voice inside gives you a million reasons not to.
Jenny Blake, Founder of Life After College (@jenny_blake)
Build an online presence, whether it’s a blog, Tumblr or About.me page. You can even use Visualize.me to spruce up your LinkedIn profile. So much of networking these days happens online, and even when you do meet someone in person, it’s a great way for them to follow up and learn more about you. One of my favorite business cards that I got at a conference said just one line: “ThatWomanIMet.com.” It was brilliant! Totally sparked my curiosity. Then I went to the Web address and realized it was my good friend Monique Johnson.
Catherine Caine, Boss Lady of Cash & Joy (@CatherineCaine)
Often networking works out in a weird friend-of-a-cousin-of-your-dog-walker way, so feel free to cultivate people without a clear idea of the path to the money. Genuine interest and connection beat strategy any day. (Both is best, of course. But if you have to choose, go with connection.)
Arvind Devalia, Coach, Author, Speaker and Blogger at Make It Happen (@ArvindDevalia)
If you are meeting someone face-to-face, always look for ways of helping the person you are talking to. Give them your 100 percent focus and attention, and listen to what they are saying. Then look for ways of helping them with your ideas, some resources or connecting them with someone who could help them.
When networking online, the “secret” is the same — look for ways of contributing and helping others.
It may or may not come back to you directly, but the world will still be a better place through your contribution.
Scott Gerber, Founder of Young Entrepreneur Council (@scottgerber)
Always help others without an agenda. Be a super connector by regularly putting like-minded people in the same room or on the same email. It’s not about “building up favors” or “networking.” Honestly, its about being a good business person and understanding that good karma and word of mouth about your ability to connect others equals good long-term relationships.
Ryan Healy, Co-Founder and COO of Brazen Careerist, Inc. (@rjhealy)
Ask questions. People often don’t know how to network or what to say, and the truth is that everyone just wants to talk about themselves. So ask about their work, their lives and be genuinely interested in their answers. Then don’t forget to follow up with the people who you want to be connected with in the future.
Benny Hsu, Blogger and Appreneur at Get Busy Living (@benny_hsu)
Don’t talk about yourself too much. No one wants to meet someone who loves the sound of their own voice. Ask questions and genuinely listen. You’ll make many more friends by listening than by talking.
Craig Jarrow, Founder of Time Management Ninja (@TMNinja)
The simple secret to networking is to give. This confuses many, because they network to try and get things. Some of the biggest connections I have ever made started because I gave something first. And don’t underestimate that you have something to give, even to those you think are out of your reach.
Danielle LaPorte, Author, Business Strategist and Inspirational Speaker (@daniellelaporte)
Show up as yourself. So many people are dying inside because they’re not really showing up. So if you’re You — at the meeting, at the club, on the bus, in love — well, then that would make you automatically exceptional. (Not to mention freer, fulfilled and closer to self-actualization. And sexy. Of course.)
Jonathan Mead, Chief Troublemaker at Paid to Exist (@jonathanmead)
Be insanely interested in helping other people succeed and finding ways you can constantly add value to others’ lives.
J. Money, Founder of Rockstar Finance (@rockstarfinance)
Being nice. And/or funny — that usually helps
No matter how successful or not someone is, at the end of the day, we’re all PEOPLE. And those things that draw us closer to each other are uniformly the same — it just doesn’t appear so when mixed with business or reaching out. I once heard from someone to just always pretend you’re on the dance floor trying to get someone’s attention. What do you do? Make a little joke? Find some small thing you have in common? Be a nice guy? All this applies to connecting off the dance floor, too — only without the spilling of beer and loud music.
Bobby Ocampo, Director of Revolution (@ocampob)
You have to love it. If your friends are also in your work circles, that’s the perfect combination. Be mindful of your time, but it all comes down to hustle… especially when you’re first breaking into the scene.
Joan Otto, Editor of Man Vs. Debt (@manvsdebt)
Give the person you’re talking to your undivided attention. That doesn’t just mean don’t check your phone while you’re chatting. It means look at them, not the floor. It means listening while they’re speaking, not figuring out what you’re going to say next and missing their half of the conversation. People will remember that, and you’ll get a much deeper connection in a much shorter amount of time.
Andrea Owen, Founder of Your Kick-Ass Life Coaching (@andrea_owen)
Do what feels good to you, not what everyone says you should do. If you don’t like in-person networking events, don’t go. If you loathe social media, figure out what you can do that feels good energetically. I just don’t think forced energy will get you anywhere, so again, do what YOU want.
Srinivas Rao, Host/Founder of Blogcast FM (@skooloflife)
Give more than you take. Surround yourself with amazing people. Connect them to each other. Let the chips fall where they may.
Joel Runyon, Founder of Impossible HQ (@joelrunyon)
Find out what other people need help with and figure out ways to help them.
Jody Thompson, Co-Founder of CultureRX and The Results-Only Work Environment (@JodyROWE)
The secret is simple: Give more than you receive. Approach it with the attitude of “How can I help you?” with no thought of getting anything in return. Then watch your network grow. Also, build your network of trusted connections before you need them. Then when you do need them, they’ll be eager to help you.
Carol Tice, Owner of the Make a Living Writing Blog and The Freelance Writers Den Community (@TiceWrites)
It’s fun! Or it should be.
Meeting new, interesting people is really what we’re here on earth for. Growing your professional circle also makes our lives more rich and fulfilling. I know people have big fears about doing it, but really, try to relax and enjoy it! I’ve met fascinating people who’ve become great friends through networking, including on social media.
Keep trying different networking methods and events until you find the place where you enjoy hanging out and you get the sort of work leads you want.