6 Strategies of Networking Heroes that Everyone Can Use

Have you ever seen that person at a business networking event who seems to know just about everyone? Or how about the person who arrives at an event only knowing a few people and by the end of the event has left an indelible, positive mark on everyone s/he has met? These types of people are amazing networkers. You probably leave events saying to yourself “I want to have that kind of rapport with people I meet at these events.”

The networking hero.

So, what is it about them that makes them so successful? Is it because they are famous or notable before they arrive at the event? Do they have a unique characteristic that others find appealing? Is it something about their personalities? Do they wear cologne that draws people to them? Is it the way they’re dressed? Do they speak with a mysterious accent that others find attractive and captivating?

Well, some of those things might be compelling, but usually, these networking heroes have mastered the art of networking by using six basic networking tools that are guaranteed to connect strongly with people they meet.

That’s right!  Just six simple tools, some practice and commitment and anyone can become a professional that feels comfortable and effective in networking settings.

These tools are available to all of us…we often just don’t know about them and therefore, we don’t use them. So, let’s change that for you right now!

The six basic things that all networking heroes do are:

  1. Make a lasting, personal connection;
  2. Get the other person talking;
  3. Actively listen;
  4. Maintain consistent eye contact;
  5. Demonstrate a “host” mentality;
  6. Follow-up within 12-18 hours.

Let’s take a deeper look at each of the basics and discuss WHY they are important tools for the networking pro.

#1 – Make A Lasting, Personal Connection

When you meet a networking hero, s/he will introduce her/himself and then ask you for your name. If the networker is really skilled, s/he will immediately use your name in a statement back to you. That might sound like this: “Oh, Joanne, it’s nice to meet you.” If your first and/or last name is “unique” and not a common name found in American English culture like Mary Jones, John Thompson, Steve Kline, Doug Smith, etc. they will ask you if they pronounced your name correctly. I often have this issue when I meet people for the first time. They normally pronounce my last name incorrectly. Usually it’s because they weren’t listening carefully.

If the savvy networker didn’t catch your name at first they may ask you to repeat your name so they “get it right” and then they will try it another time or two just to be sure they are saying it correctly. Why is this a big deal? Because networking heroes know that one’s name is arguably her/his favorite word. Doesn’t it sting a little when someone doesn’t pronounce your name correctly? Consider how good it feels for someone you just met to take the time to make sure your name is pronounced correctly. This creates a lasting, personal connection between the two of you. The true test as to just how skilled the networking pro is will be whether s/he remembers your name the next time you meet!

#2 Be A Committed Conversationalist

An important characteristic that all networking heroes do is encourage the other person to talk and then keep them talking. Savvy networkers are out to quickly learn as much as they can about the people they meet. You see,  networking pros want to maximize their networking time and make as many valuable business connections as possible.

The only way to do that is to learn enough about the people they meet to determine if setting up a dedicated meeting would be beneficial to each of them.

Effective networkers strive to be seen by others as great conversationalists. They say things like “tell me about what you do”, “tell me more about your business”, and “what is it about your work that gets you excited to get up and go to work every day?”

If you ever have a conversation with a great networker who uses this tool you’ll walk away from the encounter saying to yourself “Wow! That person was a great conversationalist! I felt like I was the most important person in the room while we were talking.”

The crazy thing is that you will probably know very little about the hero because s/he only got you to talk about yourself! The key to success here is that the pro networker doesn’t politely wait for you to finish what you’re saying so s/he can talk about her/himself. The pro is genuinely interested in hearing about your business, how long you’ve been in that field, what you love about your job, etc.

Why so many probing questions? Because the savvy networker is checking to see if you are a good match for him/her to refer you to someone else or to do business with him/herself. The only way to find out that information is to get you talking about you and your business.

What questions should you ask?

You could ask very specific questions if you do your homework.  If you happen to know who will be attending an event, you can do a bit of research online to learn more about them.  This is not stalking.  Just learn about their business and interests and see if you can work that into the conversation.

For those people that you don’t know anything about, think of some interesting questions ahead of time that will start a genuine conversation.  Here are a few to get you started:

  • How did you decide to do what you do? 
  • What do you like best about what you do?
  • What is an ideal client for you?

or simply,  

  • How can I help YOU?

#3 Actively Listen

This networking tool ties in closely with Strategy #2, since the only way to stay engaged in a quest to learn more about someone else is to keep probing and asking questions based on the answers to previous questions. Active listening requires being “present” and totally engaged in what the other person is saying.

Being a committed and active listener is tough to do. It requires discipline and practice! Granted, it’s really easy to get distracted by “shiny things” in the room like other people you want to meet, friends, texts, phone calls, etc. Active listening in a networking setting requires a total and selfless commitment to hearing the other person’s story, as brief, concise or mundane as that story might be.

It’s the other person’s story and to him or her, it’s very important. Besides, there’s really no value in talking to your friends at this event because you already know them. Always use the networking event as a chance to make new contacts….never to catch up with friends. Instead, invite your friends to a future lunch or coffee and catch up then. Talking to people you already know wastes your networking opportunities.

Unless there’s some dire reason to have your phone on while you’re at the networking event (sometimes we have child and aging parent issues for which we need to be “on-call”, but barring something like that), leave the phone off or in your car. It’s impossible to be a fully “present’ and active listener when you’re distracted. Eliminate as many distractions as possible.

Once enough information has been shared to determine whether or not this is a good networking “fit” for business, the savvy networker will either politely disconnect and move on to meet other potential business connections or suggest a subsequent meeting for more in-depth conversation. If a future meeting is warranted, swap contact information (card, etc) and move on to meet more people.

#4 Maintain Consistent Eye Contact

Being able to maintain consistent eye contact, either as a listener or as a talker, is very difficult for some people. Many say it’s easier to look at someone else who’s talking than to look at another person while you are talking.

In an August 2014 article in Forbes Magazine, Carol Kinsey Goman points out that there is a “right” amount of eye contact for various situations. She encourages readers to consider Goldilocks’ lessons in the story of the three bears where Goldilocks learns that, for each of the things she does as she explores the bears’ house, the best guide was to select the item that was “right.” As you may recall, the temperature of the porridge, the size of the chair, and the comfort of the bed that she selected were “just right.”

In a networking situation, just the right amount of eye contact can be perceived by your conversation partner as more believable, confident and competent. Too little eye contact and the other person could get the idea that you are uncomfortable, unsure or not interested in the conversation. Too much eye contact and others might conclude that you are staring at them, leaving them feeling intimidated, dominated and uncomfortable. Goman suggests that just the right amount of eye contact “produces a feeling of mutual likability and trustworthiness.” That should be your goal as a networking professional.

Because an effective networking hero will be “present” and fully aware of her/his surroundings, s/he will quickly determine what amount of eye contact is “just right” for this person in this situation. Much may depend on the other person’s cultural background (in some cultures eye contact is considered disrespectful), level of self-confidence, and comfort level and experience at such events. Almost no one is comfortable with 100% eye contact with another person.

But consistent eye contact, given the networking environment and situation, is the key to success in making valuable connections. In a business networking situation 75-90% will usually be enough for the other person to conclude that you are interested in learning about her/him. Make eye contact less than 75% and you run the risk of appearing uninterested and disconnected.

Give it a try at your next networking event. If you’re not used to making consistent eye contact, accept the fact that it’s tough to do. At first, you may feel like you’re staring at the other person but keep at it. Until you get more comfortable with making direct eye contact, you can try staring at the bridge of the other person’s nose…between his/her eyes. This will appear to the other person that you ARE making eye contact. Resist the urge to give up and stare at your shoes while you talk. Mastering consistent eye contact is like art; it takes some practice to get it “just right.”

#5 Demonstrate A Host Mentality

Networking pros know that it’s in their best interests to help others feel comfortable at networking events. This gets them known as “heroes” to those who are shy and feel uncomfortable. They also know it’s important to be known as a “connector.” It’s a fact that many people who attend networking events feel uncomfortable because they don’t know many, if any, other people at the event.

That feeling of awkward loneliness can feel like a teenager standing alone at a 9th grade dance hoping to be noticed by someone (Mr. Cellophane from the show “Chicago” comes to mind).

Being rescued from that feeling gives the experienced networker “hero” status in the eyes of the rescued person. Sometimes people who feel uncomfortable around strangers will act like they are busy with their phone or otherwise pre-occupied.  I’ve even heard people say before that they wish there was someone in the room who would come and rescue them from their awkwardness.

Go ahead…be a hero! You’ll be remembered in a positive way.

Experienced networkers demonstrate a “host” mentality by moving around the event and connecting people with each other. The work to help eliminate that awkward feeling in other people. They look for people who are standing around alone, introduce themselves, learn a bit about them and then take them to meet other people.

The great thing about this behavior is that the two people the networking pro connects not only become get to know each other, but the networking pro also becomes memorable to the two people s/he connected. People like to refer business to people they like.

I recall a wedding I attended some years ago in Pittsburgh. I arrived at the country club for the reception and I knew only my friend who was getting married. Nearly 25 years had passed between this event and college so I was not part of his current social network. When I walked in the front door he spotted me, quickly came over to greet me, and once the initial pleasantries were concluded, he began introducing me to others at the event.

Wow, did I feel a lot more comfortable? You bet I did! And I’ll always remember my friend’s generous act of kindness that helped make the 4-hour dinner reception a very enjoyable experience.

Now, when I attend networking events where I already know a number of the attendees, I seek out “new” people, get to know them a little bit and then introduce them to other attendees. People standing alone are great “targets” to engage and then play “host” to…they will be very appreciative that someone made them feel better. Go ahead and get your host-mentality on. Start connecting others and you’ll be well on your way to achieving “hero” status!

#6 Follow Up Within 12-18 Hours

Networking heroes don’t let the business cards and contact information they collect at networking events burn a hole in their pockets. Nope…they quickly reach out to the people they’ve met and make a second “touch.” Experienced networkers will tell you it takes five “touches” for a networking acquaintance to become a potential business ally.

The first touch happens when you initially meet. The second is when you reach out to them via email within 12-18 hours of the event where you met. Of course, the earlier you follow up, the stronger the positive impact.

A prompt follow-up email tells the new acquaintance a few things about the networking hero:

  1. the time spent talking with him/her was valuable;
  2. there is interest in continuing to develop the business relationship;
  3. the networking pro has good manners and is capable of expressing gratitude.

If you want to network like the pros, then you’ll be sure to include a prompt follow-up in your networking plans.

That follow-up email could include statements like “I enjoyed meeting you at the XYZ networking event this afternoon/last night/yesterday. Thank you for taking the time to share your story with me about how you got into your current line of work. I would enjoy getting together with you in the next week or so to learn more about you and your business. Please let me know if you’d like to get together again and if so, what dates and times work in your calendar.” If the other person also believes the relationship is valuable, s/he will respond promptly with dates and times that work.

Sometimes, while at networking events, we promise things to the people we meet. It could be a phone number or email address of a resource that’s been recommended to the new acquaintance. It might be an article or guide that would be helpful. You might have promised to provide a “warm” introduction to a contact the acquaintance wanted to meet. A prompt follow-up, with promises executed, will tell the new acquaintance another valuable thing: you keep your word.

I can’t tell you how many people I encounter while networking who don’t fulfill their promises. It tells me a lot about them and their character…and that I probably don’t want to do business with them. A good way to keep track of what you’ve promised is to write what you’ve promised on the back of the other person’s card after you finish your conversation and before you move to the next person. Also include the date and name of the event where you met. That will make things very easy to remember when you sit down to prepare your second “touch.”

So, there you have it…6 strategies networking “heroes” use to get remembered in a positive way. “Are there more?” you ask. Why yes, there are. Get these into your repertoire and I’ll share more once you’ve mastered these.

Remember, anyone can be a networking hero with practice, commitment and positivity.

Oh, and “Happy Networking!”