13 Jun 2013

Talk to strangers, network to reach your goals


When I was a child, my mother told me never talk to strangers. I imagine yours did the same. Now, as an adult, I am telling you it’s time to ignore your mother’s warning and talk to as many strangers as you can. All the time. With abandon. Networking is, in fact, about talking to strangers. It is about building a circle of people – your circle- or expanding on an existing one. Networking means making connections and ultimately reaching goals, whatever those goals may be.

You can network for just about anything: a new job, professional advice, mentoring, and even love. You need, however, to be able to identify how to make those connections and how to productively and carefully nurture them, so that you go beyond simply exchanging business cards or connecting on social media. You also need to be able to clearly articulate what those goals are.

Here are some tips to get you started:

1. The Elevator Pitch: Define your goals first! Try pretending that you are in an elevator and someone you’ve wanted to meet walks in. Suddenly, you need to present yourself and your goals succinctly and enthusiastically. What would you say? Come up with a 30-second pitch, practice it, and fine-tune it. You may need different pitches for a variety of goals. You never know when these pitches will come in handy!

2. Strategise: Aside from the random unexpected networking encounter, strategically plan how you will effectively utilize professional events and social gatherings to try to reach your goals. This includes a system to maintain and nurture new and existing contacts. Proactive is always better than reactive!

3. Goodbye Comfort Zone: Most people don’t feel comfortable walking into a room of strangers and talking to them, but this is exactly what is necessary. It is very easy to gravitate to the people we know and the situations that make us feel comfortable. It is time to try the opposite! Whether it is talking to a stranger in the elevator, in an airplane or in the buffet line at a conference, you need to leave your inhibitions at home and strike up a conversation. Almost every situation can be a networking opportunity!

4. Karma: Help others before you help yourself. It is better to give than to receive. However you want to define it! While networking, keep the rules of karma in mind: what goes around comes around. Nobody wants to feel used, so try to make networking an experience based on reciprocity (with you helping first) or one where you pay simply pay your good fortune forward.

5. Fun: Networking should ultimately be fun! Remember to enjoy the experience; enjoy getting to know different people; and most importantly enjoy helping others first!