We’ve all heard that people fear public speaking more than death. Not surprisingly, people are also tremendously fearful of networking. On Thursday, May 3 at the HBA event sponsored by Intouch Solutions, keynote speaker Alana Muller made networking AND public speaking look easy.

We all instinctively know that networking is good for us, our careers and our business, but few set about it as systematically as Alana. Alana is the author of “Coffee Lunch Coffee: A Practical Field Guide for Master Networking” (on Amazon here) and its companion blog. Networking is literally her business.

Alana’s model emphasizes the importance of an ongoing, consistent, strategic approach to networking. Not just when you’re a recent graduate looking for your first career. Not just when you’re transitioning between jobs. Not just to add to your collection of business cards. Not just when you’re looking to sell.

Instead, networking is about connecting, community and a sense of belonging. I think we’d all agree with Alana when she says, “it feels really good to be part of something bigger than ourselves.”

Collage of images from HBA networking event at Intouch Solutions offices

Five Tips for Networking Success

When Alana left her job as an executive at Sprint, she reached out to 205 people to connect. Her success rate? All but five of them said yes. Her secret to success included these five tips:

1.     Have a Great Attitude. Don’t enter the room with a “This is miserable” mindset. Instead, go ahead and decide that you’re FABULOUS at networking, and set out to be the person YOU would want to spend time with. And remember the best tool you have is your smile.

2.     Prepare. Meeting someone for coffee? Research them and their company. If you have a mutual contact, ask what you should know about them. Prepare questions – even simple ones such as “tell me about what you do,” “what was the last great book that you read,” or “what is your favorite app?” Albert Einstein was spot-on when he said, “Questions are the creative act of intelligence.”

3.     Reach Out. Targeting a specific contact? Reaching out can be the most difficult part of networking for some. Be brave. Remember that others want and need connections too. When you’re reaching out, be intentional with your outreach. If you have a mutual contact, mention that connection early in the correspondence. Go ahead and suggest a place and time; aim for 30-60 minutes total.

4.     Be Generous. The more you give, the more you get. So always bring a gift – even if that gift is a referral, your knowledge, or your time. Not a big talker? Sometimes the gift you can give is being a good listener.

5.     Say “Thank You.” Show your appreciation for peoples’ time, attention, and information. Never underestimate the value of a handwritten note – they capture attention and rarely are thrown away.

“Questions are the creative act of intelligence.” ~ Albert Einstein

Bonus Tip: Signing Off

Especially in group networking settings, sometimes you need a graceful exit. So one tip I found particularly helpful included these two suggestions for exiting a conversation:

  • “I really enjoyed talking with you. There’s a few more people I’d like to connect with here today. Have a great morning/day/night.”
  • “I’m going to get myself a drink. Would you like one?” If the answer is no, then there’s your exit. If the answer is yes, bring the drink back, and use the line above.

Set Your Networking Goals Now

Seth Godin said networking is about “helping people achieve their goals, reliably, and repeatedly, so that over time, they have an interest in helping you achieve your goals.”

Speaking of goals, Alana recommends setting a goal of meeting a certain number of people per day or per week – what works for your schedule – and then work on increasing that number. Whether it’s three connections a day or one connection per week (re-connections count), carve out dedicated time to connect.

Over time, networking won’t seem so scary after all. You might even start to like it.