Networking is a divisive topic among professionals. Some people thrive on social gatherings, naturally make new connections, and find that building a massive network comes easily. Others, however, find networking an awkward affair fraught with phony smiles, polite small talk, and no genuine investment in the people you're talking to.
Networking is above all challenging. Even for those of us who enjoy meeting and connecting with other professionals, maintaining that connection is difficult enough. The secret, of course, is making genuine connections.
But how can we really, truly connect with other professionals when our attention is pulled in a thousand directions?
4 Networking Tips for Busy Professionals
1) Try multiple channels.
There are more ways to connect than ever. However, few of those channels result in genuine connections. Following someone on social media and being followed back does not guarantee that the other person knows who you are or has any real investment in what you do. We have to move beyond these surface-level, artificial connections that give the impression of networking but provide no real and lasting relationships.
When you're trying to network with busy, successful professionals, you will often find getting ahold of them is a challenge. It's easier to default to those surface-level connections. However, if we hope to build worthwhile relationships with other professionals, we have to go deeper.
That said, trying to get in contact with busy people can be an exercise in frustration. One thing we have to remember is that we're not always good at responding in all of the many ways we can get in touch with people. If you're reaching a dead end via email, you might need to reach out on Twitter. Send an old-fashioned letter. If you aren't making headway, try different tactics. This doesn't mean to spam or badger the person in question. But it does mean that you should try to reach them in different ways if your first go-to isn't yielding results.
2) Step into their shoes.
So you want to network with a certain successful professional in your field. You feel like you have something to offer and really think that talking to them would be beneficial for you both. But think about it. They are likely approached by dozens of others like you with the same pitch on top of their actual daily responsibilities.
This isn't to say it isn't common courtesy to respond to someone who messages you. However, we have to put ourselves in the shoes of the people we are trying to connect with. Are you looking for a mutually beneficial relationship? Do you have something to offer? If you just want to take from their time, wisdom, and energy, don't be surprised when your requests are ignored or not answered when and how you would like.
In short, be patient and considerate. To you, it may make perfect sense. It may not to them, and not everyone will give you their time. Take it graciously. Preserve your reputation and try to think the best of people. It will save you a lot of unnecessary frustration.
3) Ask second.
One of the worst things you can do when approaching another professional is to ask for something right out of the gate. Your question of "can I pick your brain?" might seem innocuous enough, but already it sounds like you just want to use the other person for your gain. You are less interested in them and more interested in what they can give you.
There is a balance to be struck here. You want to (and must!) genuinely invest in the lives and well-being of others as people first and foremost if you hope to maintain real connections in the long-term. However, you don't want to waste time with small talk just to avoid asking for something first.
Still, orient yourself towards the person rather than your problems first. There's usually no harm in asking questions, but a lasting, meaningful networking relationship must be built on more.
4) Stand out.
Networking involves meeting a lot of people. That's no secret. What we have to recognize in this, however, is a need to differentiate ourselves from every other person trying to make connections with the people we want to connect to.
Do you stand out?
This is why your presentation is so important. You must leave that stellar impression that no one can forget. This involves everything from minding how you dress and carry yourself to how you speak and give handshakes. Your body language, clothes, focus, and even your grooming habits can all make you memorable...or not and for both good or bad reasons.
The first thing I would suggest is to come prepared. Know exactly who you're talking to and what they're about. Be able to carry an educated conversation about them and what they do. Know where you want that conversation to go but be able to adapt. Be natural and relaxed. Don't expect world-changing results from one meeting. Just connect.
Set this small goal from the outset and build up your larger goals later.
With this in mind, you will be able to see results from your networking efforts.
What do you find gets people's attention most when networking? Let me know your top strategies in the comments.