I recently had a lively conversation in one of my local coffee shop's in which I shared my conviction for informal networking, it's value and that it can happen in the most bizarre of situations or encounters.
Remember that everyone goes through the coffee shop at one time on another. I have seen everything from bicycles, Lamborghini's to Darth Vader! You just never know who is behind the wheel or mask untill you meet them.
Strange as it may seem if the opportunity is open, I will make a conscious effort to put myself out there when it comes to making new connections. Social is important in anyone's world, and it is imperative while personally developing or leading a start-up. By reaching out and listening, I have found that ideas and the needs of people do not really change, but technology and the culture of today's networking or business profiles do change their world at an alarming pace. It is a very challenging place for the young, the old and the budding entrepreneur to unravel the seeming intricacy.
I have found that the first way to determine my objective or direction is through listening with a careful observation and truthful analysis between what I hear and that of my vision.
It is not enough to say that 50 years of observation has not taken it's toll in mistake's or added to my experience, but Dr. Norman Vincent Peale is still selling books. There are plenty of formal networking tips worth sharing, but for now I would like only to share with you my top tips from a book that is 60 year's old on informal networking. I am a firm believer in "Journeys" and the adventures in meeting new people and their ideas - Soitsfun!
How you say "Hello" and greet others will make a connection that will enrich your day and establish the first impression to any relationship personally or professionally. Here are some of my favorites …
The 15 best tips that I have found for informal or casual networking:
Before you even start:
1. Know where you are going! Initially pick casual settings or your comfort zone to network in. Reach out to the weak ties or acquaintances in your life who aren’t part of your immediate social or professional circles - then step out when things are not so scary. Weak ties are a critical part of any professional network because they serve as “bridges” between tighter networks; they connect you to ideas, people, and opportunities that you can’t access through your closest contacts.
You know how to cycle, drive, take the bus or subway. Normal life is not easy but you’re well acquainted with almost every activity normal life requires of you. Check out the activities on Meetup.com, your church, or get active in your local gym with the idea objective of keeping fit. A great networking location overlooked by many is any coffee shop. One or two visits to and you'll meet the regulars and others who range from students studying, to Uber casual CEO's avoiding the traffic. Always look for those hot spot's that share the need for human connection and reason to congregate for business or fun.
2. Always carry a personal, or business card.
How many times can you count looking for a pen or paper and missing "that lady jumping on the bus" or that inadvertent connection that coincides with your job or business interests? Include all contacts such as social media on your card - make it easy for people to connect with you.
3. Dress for the occasion or above.
It is not required to always be dressed to the hilt, but each occasion always carries a comfortable norm. Meeting people in the Sauna is not the usual networking situation, unless you are from Finland. First impressions are most important and the impression left will introduce you the next time you meet.
Look your best whenever you are in public, which leaves other's with a “he/she has it all together” look. Dressing up for the occasion is fun for all women and "most" men. It is an art that is becoming lost in today's "casualness". Dressing up makes us feel good, look better and exudes self-confidence.
4. Always keep an open posture
An "open" posture -- head up, arms and legs uncrossed -- conveys an openness to being approached. Looking at the floor or crossing your arms, on the other hand, can convey shyness, unfriendliness or even hostility.
5. In Communication: Be direct and make eye contact
This demonstrates that you are focused on your conversation and genuinely interested in the other person. Eye contact reinforces your interest in the other person and you hear what they are saying.
Use their name in addressing them at the beginning and end of conversation. It personalise's the communication and imprints their name in your memory.
6. Focus on quality, not quantity.
Spending time engaging in meaningful conversations with a few people is often better than floating around the room engaging in short, superficial conversations. Aim to make real connections by asking questions, listening intently and moving beyond small talk, where appropriate.
7. Don't be a product-pusher.
Nobody likes that guy or gal who attends events to push their ideas or products. If they ask be brief or understate. Dangle the bait to use your business card. Instead of focusing on how you feel today, focus on making your conversation partner feel good about themselves. Social may result in leads, but should never be used as a way to directly sell or promote.
8. Always ask about "Value added”?
Thank them for the opportunity to meet and chat with them. Acknowledge their idea's and contribution to the moment in thank them for their time and viewpoint. Research from the Beckham Institute suggests that shaking someone's hand may increase the chances of having a positive interaction.
9. Introduce them to someone else with complimentary idea's.
Remember, they are in this for the same reason you are, communication and mutually beneficial contacts.
You have to sell yourself to others (when it comes to networking), but you must also give in connecting people to others. Remember the "value added"?
10. Have a “call to action”
Never treat a meeting without the expectation of meeting again or that something should follow. You should now have a valid plan to follow-up. It may be only for a coffee, but it add's value to the future relationship.
11. Go one better and before you end the communication, tell him or her how you will plan to follow-up.
Simply stating, If you are invited to phone, or say that you will - do so! or say "I'll send you an email for a coffee date” will demonstrate you are serious about staying in touch. This is were you prove your "metal", they will remember in the short term, so make sure that you do it.
12. Take notes.
Immediately following an event (please, not during!), jot down helpful information you gleaned. These details will quickly fade in the days following an event, so taking physical notes can help.
13. Following the meeting: Do what you said!
They will remember. Tweet, email or call them (remember their name and use it), acknowledge their ideas expressed in your conversation. Thank them for their input and/or participation.
The greatest reward in acknowledging someone else is to be acknowledged in return. Strive for connections and the mutually beneficial community you will build within your network of personal and professional contacts. It is an added bonus, when others offer to put me in touch with some of their fabulous connections in return. It is like a reference and should be treated as such.
14. Keep in touch (mark it on your calendar!)
Add them to your phone Calendar. Mark them down for a week, monthly or tri-monthly contact. It is like a birthdays or anniversary, "It keeps the relationship going".
15. Take notes.
Immediately following a an event (please, not during!), jot down helpful information you gleaned. These details will quickly fade in the following days, so taking physical notes can help.
This is a garunteed program that is simple and free. No need to pay some internet guru for common sense that has existed since before writers began chronicling on the wall's of caves.