More contracts are granted, and more jobs won, based on contacts. You need to develop strong marketing skills that leave an indelible impression on the people with whom you come into contact. Networking successfully is both a science and an art. You can improve your chances of successfully impressing people if you:
Open your horizons. Consider the world your market. Take opportunities to network wherever you are — in the supermarket, in a line at the cinema, and, of course, at professional gatherings. You never know who you will meet, or what connections they might have.
When you're in a room full of strangers, here are some ways to network successfully:
Initiate discussions. Make small talk. Find something that you have in common — impatience at waiting, the same sneakers, books, etc. Behave in a friendly manner. Display a happy, warm disposition. Observe people's reactions to you and respond accordingly. If the initial reaction is negative, try someone else. If it's positive, go beyond.
Have a "grabber" punchline always ready. It should be something that positions you as worthwhile, smart, or inquisitive but never boastful.
Find out and use people's names. Do a quick association so you won't forget it, and then use it a few times in the first minutes.
Display your curiosity about the things others do and what interests them. Probe them for details beyond the superficial.
Learn to describe what you do in simple terms. Make it sound interesting. Act enthusiastic when you describe your activities.
Ask lots of questions to establish a link that may be of value to you. Try to find an item to trade so you can help your new contacts in some way. This will motivate them to pursue the discussion.
Dress appropriately. When in doubt, dress up. Always appear neat and clean.
Smile a lot. Stand tall. Project enthusiasm, but with warmth and sincerity.
Shake people's hands at the beginning and end of your conversations with them. Make this firm, but not a bone-crusher. Add a couple of seconds to the shake with people with whom you feel you have connected, to give them the subtle reinforcement that you have placed a value on your meeting.
Relax and be yourself. Don't try to project something you are not.
Divulge something unusual about yourself to try to pique their interest in you. Show that you are different, special, and unique in some way.
Share business cards. Find something on the person's card that is worth talking about. Say things like "Gee, that seems interesting. Can you tell me more about that?"
Avoid excessive eating or drinking — you will be sending a signal that you are somewhat overwhelmed by the situation, as opposed to appearing to fit into the situation like a glove.
Make it easy for people to use your name. Display your name appropriately, and add a smiley face or some interesting sticker to attract attention and help get the conversation going.
Ask lots of open-ended questions, rather than questions that can lead to a yes or no response.
Listen to others. Be patient. Encourage people to talk so that you can pick up clues to the things they need and want. By tailoring your message to their needs, you will get yours met more often.
Be positive. Think of three to six adjectives that apply to you both personally and professionally. This could include adjectives such as decisive and driven, which might set you apart. And be prepared to back your description with anecdotal evidence.
Keep up to date with the newest ideas in the industry. Know how they work, what they do, and how you can use them. If possible, develop some experience with them so that you can speak authoritatively.
Network constantly. Look at every gathering as a chance to expand your network. Talk to people at your church, in the bank line-up, on the bus. But be sensitive to people who may not want to reciprocate. Back off immediately if you sense that people have little interest in pursuing the discussion.
Set a goal for expanding your connections each week. Keep a log. If you have a computerized system to collect a list of contacts, categorize them so that you can refer to them quickly.
Join committees where people of like minds and interests will be found. Volunteer for projects, particularly if there is a likelihood that you will work with people who can assist you.
Keep new connections in a file. Categorize them. Keep in touch with key people by sending them cards on holidays. Or send them little thank-you notes if they give you some help.
Finally, treat networking as a game. Make it fun. Challenge yourself to see how many contacts you "win" and how many you "lose." Set goals for a win-lose ratio or for the number of new people you want to meet each month.