The power of authentic networking

handshakeSome people network to collect business cards; I prefer to collect stories. That’s because behind every successful business leader is a story. Authentic networking gives you an opportunity to tell your own story and, more important, be enriched by listening to other people tell theirs.

Fresh out of college and new in my first job, I attended an IABC event where I witnessed the power of authentic networking firsthand. I remember feeling awkward about introducing myself to strangers, and didn’t quite know how to go about it. Then, one professional included me in her conversation group, and introduced me to a few other people. The rest, as they say, is history.

Over the years, it’s been my experience that the most meaningful networking occurs when I am listening to people tell me their stories and making that personal connection. The people I’ve met through networking have become my friends, mentors, clients, business partners and employees. They have enriched me both professionally and personally. And for that, I will always be grateful to the person who showed me the power of authentic networking by welcoming me into her conversation.

Here are five tips you can use to build important relationships with the smart and talented people you meet at your next industry event:

  1. Arrive early. Being among the first attendees to show up at an event offers you the chance to thrive in one-on-one conversations before the room gets too crowded.
  2. Connect first; exchange business cards later. Engaging in a purposeful conversation will make a lasting impression that gives relevance to the contact information on your business card.
  3. Set a goal. Deciding to speak to a specific number of people gives you a concrete goal to work toward and can help you focus on more substantive conversations.
  4. Volunteer. Working an event presents natural opportunities to talk with organizers and attendees. This can be particularly helpful for people who are introverts or new to an organization.
  5. Listen. Asking the right questions, then listening with the intent to learn establishes a foundation for a lasting business relationship.

If you are newer in your career, network to soak up the wisdom around you. And, make sure to ask a lot of questions along the way. If you are mid-way in your career, networking may be just the boost you need to overcome the challenges standing in your way. And, if you are further along in your career, embrace the power of authentic networking by asking someone, “What’s your story?”

This article is by Jill Vitiello, the founder and president of Vitiello Communications Group (VTLO). VTLO is a preferred sponsor of the IABC World Conference.

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