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Many entrepreneurs and budding professionals go the easy route when it comes to networking – sending gifts, emails and thank you notes but avoiding deep conversations. Corporate gifts and promotional products are all well and good, but you need to incorporate people skills into your strategy if you want to make a lasting positive impression. This tricky task is made even more difficult in the post-pandemic world where social distancing rules are still dictating the parameters of many human interactions. To help you on this challenging mission, here are five ways you can improve your networking skills and start 2021 on a positive note:
1. Build relationships, not a business card collection
Many people go into networking events with a paint-by-numbers approach. Greet a few people, have a few drinks, collect a few business cards. All of this activity gives you a false sense of achievement. You’ve networked. But what have you actually gotten out of it?
Instead of collecting names to add to your contact list, focus on building relationships. Though there are many approaches to this, one of the best ways to go about it is by finding ways to give something of value to the people you’re interested in connecting with. Think about what you can do for them, make some offers, and go from there.
2. Learn to platform surf
Few people refer to online browsing as “surfing the web” anymore, but that doesn’t mean the surfing metaphor is obsolete when it comes to the digital realm. To effectively network in 2021, you need to be proficient in more than just a handful of platforms.
From email and social media to chat services and workforce management software, you need to be flexible enough to be able to pick up the ins and outs of emerging software and technology as they become popular. The more platforms you’re able to master, the more proficient you will become in general, allowing you to flow with the rapidly-changing times and network like a pro.
3. Develop your listening skills
The key to good communication lies in the attention you give to the other person. You’ve probably heard how important active listening is, but there’s a big difference between genuine active listening and just smiling and nodding along.
Pay attention to what the other person is saying and rephrase it back to them before you offer your response. This makes it clear that you’ve been engaging with what they have to say, meaning they’ll be far more receptive to your response. This will set a good tone for the rest of the conversation, making them more open to any pitch you may have.
4. Switch up your networking mindset
If you’ve been thinking of networking as a necessary evil or a tool you need to use to get ahead, it may be time for a mindset refresh. Start looking at networking opportunities as a chance to learn about and be of service to others. Not only will this reveal valuable information for your own enterprise, but you can also uncover ways in which you can help the people with whom you’re hoping to strike up professional relationships.
As mentioned above, this is one of the most powerful ways to build lasting relationships. Choose your connections wisely, and what you give away will come back to you many times over.
The four points listed above are central to the development of a networking strategy that delivers results. Put just as much effort into nurturing your existing network, and you’ll be on your way to a positive and productive 2021.