This post by Dorie Clark first appeared at Forbes.
Twenty five years ago, Susan RoAne published the mega-bestseller How to Work a Room, which has sold more than a million copies and taught countless professionals how to network. Here are five tips she shared in a recent interview about how to connect with people and build meaningful professional relationships.
Working a Room Isn’t Networking. Meeting people at conferences or events – “working a room” – is an important prerequisite to networking, says RoAne, but they’re actually two distinct skills. “If we don’t mix, meet and mingle,” she says, “we miss the opportunity to build our base of contacts and networks.” But even the best minglers falter if they don’t have the ability to follow through with the connections they make (i.e., networking). And many great networkers can build solid relationships once they’ve met someone, but have limited pipelines because they’re “uncomfortable entering events, meetings, conferences, or parties and find them to be daunting experiences.” To build successful professional relationships, you need to work on both skills.
Social Media is a Critical Component of Today’s Networking. “I was stubborn about face-to-face, real-time networking,” recalls RoAne. But living in the Bay Area, she says, “I learned that I needed to be more open-minded” about the world of social networking. “Eight years ago, it took eight months of encouragement by Konstantin Guericke (whose wife had a copy of How To Work a Room), a co-founder of LinkedIn, to convince me to join. I thought it encroached on ‘real’ people to people networking. But I relented and joined.” She’s since become a major fan of the service, along with Facebook and Twitter. “Twitter has made me a better writer/editor/consumer and sharer of information,” she says. “It helped me build relationships with people I knew of. I researched their Twitter names and made contact. It allows me to support friends, and share their books, ideas and good news.”
Meeting people at conferences and events is an important prerequisite to networking, says expert, Susan RoAne. (Photo credit: SpokaneFocus)
The Best Networkers Know How to Say No. With so many requests coming at us (Facebook messages, email invitations, Twitter direct messages, and the like), it’s easy to feel justified in ignoring or deleting them. RoAne says you should think again, because classic manners still apply. “Whether it’s social and online or face-to-face, we still have to be part of the conversation, respond in a timely fashion, keep people in the loop and never leave them twisting in the wind,” she says. “Thoughtful people say ‘no, thank you’ or ‘we are going in a different direction’ and let people off the hook.”
Own Up to Your Networking Mistakes. Even the pros make mistakes sometimes. RoAne recalls one luncheon where “I was seated with two women I knew, but I was so annoyed at something that happened at the talk I had given that I ignored one of the people (who is a networking coach and had been kind to me) and stayed exclusively engaged in conversation with the other person. I saw the forlorn look at being excluded and still didn’t direct my conversation to her, although I included her with eye contact. I know better than that and had written often about being inclusive, and yet I wasn’t.” After the meeting, RoAne sent her a note of apology and “learned I had indeed made her feel uncomfortable, ignored, unimportant. That hit me hard. She graciously commended me for writing and accepted my apology.” In the best spirit of networking, RoAne later invited her colleague to co-host a networking table “and made sure I sent a note of appreciation and let the president of the organization know of her contribution.”
We all know our professional success is directly tied to the relationships we build. For RoAne, that means one simple directive: “we must be nice to everyone. It’s a smart, savvy and thoughtful way to live our lives.” And you never know the possibilities that could emerge from meeting the right person. What are your best networking tips?
Dorie Clark is a marketing strategist who teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. Learn more about her book Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press) and follow her on Twitter.