Real talk: I’m not a big fan of networking.
The surface-level exchanges. The small talk. The business cards. The obligatory follow-up. The whole dance feels forced, disingenuous, and usually ineffective.
I’m into something much more important, and way more fun when I meet new people—building relationships. That’s the real goal of “networking,” and that’s what I teach at The Art of Charm, my social dynamics company, where we’ve coached over 5,000 guys on building meaningful relationships in all areas of their lives. I’ve also interviewed some of the world’s leading networking experts on the top-rate Art of Charm Podcast about everything from rewiring networking ideas to overcoming the fear of rejection.
So if you’re looking to up your networking game, here are five of my favorite tips, all grounded in the latest research and my own personal experience. They’re also contrarian at times— ideas that are at odds with your run-of-the-mill networking. They’ve worked for me, and I know they’ll work for you, so enjoy!
1. Be patient, but be smart.
Reaching out to new people can be a time-intensive, drawn-out process. In a world of instant gratification, that might seem frustrating and inefficient. But the truth is, if you want to connect with the people you admire, prepare to be in it for the long haul. These things take time because they deserve it.
But while you might not be able to hack friendships, you can hack the processes surrounding them. The social sales funnel, for example, is one of the most effective tools for cultivating your network and connecting with multiple people at a time. Other shortcuts, like finding multiple mutual friends with a new connection or sending interesting articles to your contacts, will help you form relationships more quickly without creating too much additional work.
Still, remember that you’re in pursuit of human relationships, and human relationships take time. So be patient and persistent, even as you systematize your networking.
2. Be persistent.
Sometimes you find a direct line to someone, and you’re immediately in. Other times, you’ll find that you just didn’t manage to build the relationship you were hoping to build on your first approach.
The beauty of relationship-building is that you don’t only get one shot to connect with people. In fact, not getting an immediate response can be just what you need to keep building and circle back when you have something new and valuable to offer. Often, it’s precisely then that your networking will pay off.
In our years of coaching, we’ve seen people reach out to their heroes several times without an answer, only to receive a response several months (and many long nights of hard work) later. Polite persistence isn’t just acceptable—it’s crucial, and often necessary to reach the people you want to meet.
3. Acknowledge the weirdness.
As I mentioned, “networking” isn’t natural. The concept itself—of trying to be both deliberate and genuine about whom you meet—is a weird contradiction. But networking doesn’t have to be awkward, if you use the awkwardness to your advantage.
“Hi Dave,” I began an email recently. “Sending you this note must seem almost random, but I had to write you to talk about your awesome speech last week.” I went on to tell him what I enjoyed, sent him a cool article I had read about his industry, and invited him onto my show.
That kind of introduction cuts right through the awkwardness of reaching out to a total stranger. It comments on the randomness, then blows right past it.
The next time you reach out to someone, consider taking a similar approach. With that simple step, you’re communicating a number of important things: That you understand the social dynamics at play. That you possess enough empathy to understand how you come across to other people. Perhaps most importantly, that you might be sending them a random note, but that you yourself are not random.
4. Be unapologetic.
A lot of networking hiccups occur when we consciously or unconsciously apologize for reaching out.
This can take the form of “I know you probably wouldn’t talk to a junior designer about architecture, but…” or “Sorry to bother you, but I wanted to ask if you’d be willing to share your advice on sales”—or whatever form of self-deprecation you happen to prefer.
We all have ways of keeping our heads down, of acting like our needs don’t really matter. In doing so, we subtly give up our place at the table before we even sit down. This kills our chances of truly connecting with someone, because we’ve already discounted ourselves before the relationship even begins.
So look out for the ways in which you’re apologizing for networking. In fact, do the opposite: be clear and confident about why you’re writing. Being unapologetic doesn’t mean you have to be brash or pushy, just forthright and specific about your reasons for reaching out. It’s hard to go wrong when you’re being super clear about your reasons for forming a new connection.
5. Take some calculated risks.
If you’re truly committed to connecting with someone, then remember this: You will have to risk being annoying in order to reach them. By being persistent, you can easily stumble into some social faux pas—being pushy, needy, self-interested or straight-up annoying. But you don’t have to make any of those mistakes.
The key is to continually provide value.
As long as you remain polite, interesting, and focused on the other person’s needs, then you’ll find that it’s very difficult to make a mistake when you reach out to new people. There are lots of ways to continue providing value: offering to introduce someone to a colleague who works in their field, sharing insights you picked up that might help them with their business, even forwarding a video that made you laugh. (Seriously. “Providing value” means many things depending on the context and the person. Jay Leno once said that “You can’t stay mad at somebody who makes you laugh.” Great advice for networking.)
Your networking response rate will skyrocket as soon as you find ways to consistently help other people. That help, in turn, becomes your invitation to the table. You’re sharing, as opposed to just reaching out, which will massively increase your chances of successfully building a relationship.
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