Every idea worth pursuing (whether to land a new job or start a business) is made better with people. Without others, your idea is less likely to succeed. And the likelihood that you already know the people who can help is pretty slim. That’s where good networking comes in.
The problem is, many people approach networking unprepared–and it shows. They don’t get the help they need, or worse, find themselves on the blacklist of people to be avoided. Will Rogers said it best: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
To help you make your best first impression, I’ve compiled the following checklist of networking tips based on my experiences of sitting through a lot of bad first impressions (and some really great ones). Think of this as your networking pre-flight checklist to use before you set out on your first visit:
- Be clear about your purpose (and stick to it). Don’t just wing it by asking to meet someone just because you think they’re “interesting” or to “explore mutual interests.” Wait until you have a clear WHY before you ask to meet with them. Now, to be clear, I’ve had a great many successful networking meetings that were just to see what might come of it. But I’ve found that the more clear my WHY is, the more success I have reaching the right people. There’s nothing more frustrating to a busy executive taking a networking appointment from someone who doesn’t know why they asked for it.
Actually, there IS something more frustrating: the bait and switch. Never. Ever. Bait and switch. I once took a networking request from a person who wanted some advice about a business transition. He sounded desperate for help, so I gave him a short window that I had open. I regretted it within the first five minutes of our meeting when he started telling me about all these wonderful products I could buy through him. He used a disingenuous purpose to hook me into a sales meeting. That earned him a spot on my networking blacklist.
- Respect their time. Remember, you’re initiating the networking request. You’re interrupting the other person you want to meet. Do everything you can to make it as easy for them to meet with you. (That’s another reason for having a clear purpose). Ask for a location and time that’s most convenient for them, and in your request suggest how much time you’re asking for. Tip: keep it under an hour. You’ll often find that if you’ve made a good first impression, you’ll get more than that. In fact, the more precise you are about the time (20 minutes, 40 minutes, etc), the more likely they are to believe that you’ll stick to it. During the end of your allotted time, be sure to let them know the time is almost up so that you can wrap up. Trust me, when you guard their time, you’ll stand out, and will be far more likely to win another appointment or a favorable referral.
- Relate to something they care about. Before you meet, do a little research. Discover what they care about or common interests and connections you share. That’s where LinkedIn can be an invaluable networking resource. Look through the groups they belong to, any common connections, or skill sets you share. Asking them about something that’s important to them is a great way to build quick rapport and is a great ice breaker. One of the most rewarding new contacts I developed was from another person overhearing a comment I made about something I cared about. He approached me later to introduce himself, leading with the thing I cared about. We’ve helped each other ever since.
- Excel in the first four minutes. Research has demonstrated that the first four minutes of any encounter sets the tone for the rest of the encounter. So make your first four minutes count. If you’re late, or fumbling about, or on a call when you meet your contact, you’ve already communicated volumes even before the first word. Instead, be prompt (or better, early), give a warm, genuine smile, and engage them with good eye contact. I’m constantly amazed at how many people I meet fail to excel in these simple fundamentals.
- Help them remember you. If you’re networking to meet someone, it’s likely there are literally hundreds of other people over the course of the year they’ll meet with, too. What will make you stand out? Maybe it’s the hand-written note of thanks you send them. Maybe it’s the connection you made for them, based on something they said. Maybe, it’s simply the fact that you came with a list of prepared questions. One of the best ways to stand out from the crowd is to offer “an unexpected gift at an unexpected time,” to quote Sean Connery’s character in the movie Finding Forrester. One of the most memorable networking encounters I had was with a guy who wanted my advice about something. He had a very nice looking leather folio that caught my eye and I asked where he bought it. Imagine my surprise when two days later, the same folio was delivered to my office with a nice note inside thanking me for my time. Did that make him stand out? You bet. Did it make me more inclined to help him? You bet. That’s the power of reciprocity. (More on reciprocity in this episode of the ReInventure Me podcast!)
Try this preflight checklist before your next networking meeting and let me know how it goes.
If you’re looking for more tips on how to network like a pro, then this episode of the ReInventure Me podcast has you covered.
Comment below: What other things would you add to this preflight checklist?
I have a one-page worksheet for a 20-Minute Networking Meeting. It’s based on the book by Marcia Ballinger and published with their permission. Consistent with the guidance in your article. Happy to.provide a copy for you to publish. Received over 4500 views on LinkedIn when I recently posted it there.