New Ways of Networking
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Maybe it's the forced nature of the classic networking event that puts some people off — being stuck in a conference room, armed with only a drink and some business cards. There are alternatives to the traditional meet-and-greet that feel more natural and allow you to shine without the pressure of performing for the typical networking crowd.
If you find traditional industry mixers intimidating or ineffective, discover other ways to be around people who make great contacts. The 18th green has long been a non-business setting for making deals, but sports aren't the only way to network, especially for younger employees eager to work their way up the ladder. Find a social media group specific to your industry; attend interesting talks, book signings or other events that help you learn industry insights and mingle with potential contacts.
Location, Location, Location
Every city has bars and restaurants that are favorite after-work haunts. These places may even have reputations as hangouts for particular professions, such as lawyers or stockbrokers. You've got nothing to lose from being seen in such a location, and you may have much to gain. It's easy to bump into influential people if you're a familiar face in a comfortable place.
The Volunteer Connection
Strategic volunteering can place you on the inside quickly. The volunteer community features the same players across several charities in many towns. Stick to opportunities that hold your interest because this is a service role. Sales and business development are an extension, not the focus, of this type of networking.
Use Your History
Whether your personal network is just starting or it's stagnating, look to the past for fresh connections. You probably have dozens of contacts and acquaintances from school or past jobs with whom you've lost touch. Reach out and dust off the friendships. Even if these people aren't working in a related industry, count on the power of friend-of-a-friend word-of-mouth.
Get That Second Date
If you're stuck at a business-to-business event and overwhelmed by the sheer number of people, take a deep breath and focus on finding just one person with whom you'd like to network with on a deeper level. Then set a follow-up one-on-one. It's a little like speed dating — there's no need to get life stories from everyone you speak with. Find a contact who feels promising and set up a time to talk further.
Using New Media
Companies like LinkedIn demonstrate the power of social media as both a networking and advertising tool. Effective use of this site, as well as Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms, can quickly put you in touch with colleagues you might never meet otherwise.
Combine this with other networking techniques to increase the effectiveness of each. For example, scouting LinkedIn for other attendees before a real world networking event lets you later connect in person.
Create Your Own Group
Get to the center of your networking circle by starting your own. Not only can you invite people you want to learn from, but you can also choose a setting that suits you. Base your meetings around coffee, dinner parties or any other environment. As group leader, you're immediately the go-to person.
Nurture and Reconnect
With a strong network, everyone benefits from the circle of influence that's created. The most effective strategic networking may come from contacts you've already recruited. Some networking experts recommend a core group of five to ten strong quality contacts with whom you're in touch with frequently. Maximize shared value with these key people, and draw on your wider network as needed.