Networking is a seminal skill for many careers. In the past, networking meant meeting people face to face at chamber of commerce, industry and other social/business events. Technology has changed that and today we network via LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites. Those sites are fabulous, but nothing can replace human interaction. Looking a person in the eye, shaking his or her hand and witnessing body language allows you to build rapport and connect in a manner that social networking cannot. Here are some tips to help you succeed at the "old" art of networking.
Understand your goals. Are you networking to make business connections, learn, volunteer or get a new job? Networking functions have different tenors and purposes; therefore, it is important to visit groups before deciding to join. If you attend several events without results, don’t give up on networking, just find groups that fit better.
Have elevator speech. In about 20 to 30 seconds, be able to answer the question "what do you do?" Write it down and practice so you can articulate it clearly. Tell how you do your job, what makes you different from others and what your unique value proposition is. Whether you are competing for business, looking for referrals or seeking a new job, make it easy for people to understand what you do and remember you.
Be consistent. Have a systematic approach to networking. Create a plan and stick to it. Whether you plan to attend one networking event a week or month, consistency is vital. Over time you will become recognizable and deepen your contacts.
Try to help others. Throughout my career I have found that when I help others, it returns to me in spades. Approach networking from the vantage point of being a resource and offering assistance to others. People will remember you for this and be interested in speaking with you again. Put your goals on the back burner and think about the other person.
Master small talk. Before a networking function, brush up on current events. Being conversant in the news of the day, the financial markets, sports or anything related to the group you are meeting with will enable you to engage in necessary idle banter.