Networking Skills: Make A Better First Impression
In many ways the saying, “you only have one chance to make a first impression” is true in your personal and professional life. Whether you are speaking to a client, colleague or some would-be referral source, how you begin your relationship will often have long-lasting consequences. So how do ensure that your first impression is the best impression?
Most people don’t really think about which impressions they are creating when they begin networking. However, first impressions are incredibly important because they occur regardless of whether you care or not. Moreover, first impressions are powerful and can be hard to change if you happen to leave the wrong impression initially.
One of the best ways to improve your networking skills or to ensure that networking is easier for you in the future is to work on creating the best first impression. Your future networking endeavors will be much smoother if you are able to start your relationship on the right foot. Here are some simple techniques to help you leave a better first impression:
Prepare Ahead of Time
If you plan on meeting someone new, take the time and energy to investigate who they are and what they do. Basically, do your homework and investigate who you are meeting. This will help you remember why you want to network in the first place. Moreover, when you know who you are meeting with, what they do and how they do it, you can better prepare for the conversations to come.
Depending on your particular networking style—and even your networking goals— understanding the person with whom you are meeting will help you prepare some simple conversational themes or topics. Additionally, if you have a particular goal for the meeting, you may be able to shape the conversation in a helpful manner.
It is important to not over-prepare for any networking meeting. Prepare for simple and natural conversation where you can direct the flow and cadence in a direction that is mutually beneficial.
Be Mindful of Your Opinions
If you plan on meeting people on a regular basis you will discover that there are various topics of conversation that are better left until you know someone better. For example, no matter how outrageous the election season was it is better to avoid talking politics until you know someone better.
While being confident and comfortable is always a good thing, try to remember that networking is a two-way street. Avoid directing any conversation to untested or unknown topics. While exploring certain opinions can create strong bonds with your new colleague, it is important to tread carefully and gain the measure of a person before broaching sensitive or polarizing topics.
If networking and relationship building is a significant part of your business strategy, it is important to discover how you appear to others. Learning how you may appear to others is difficult; however, a close group of professional colleagues or friends may be able to assist you in understanding how you appear to others. Additionally, close friends and colleagues can assist you in identifying your best and most personable traits that you may be able to promote when meeting someone new.
Find Common Ground
Meeting someone new can be difficult, and while meeting new people can be exciting, there are many professionals who are not personable or who are uncomfortable networking. If you happen to be sharing lunch with someone that is more reserved or less willing to open up, consider finding common ground or shared interests to connect on a more basic level. If you are unable to connect on topics of sports, geography, books or other common topics, look for clues by asking open-ended questions that may provide some insight into what that person is passionate about. The most important thing to remember is that even seemingly boring people can have unbridled passions for untold hobbies, sports or topics.
Regardless of how good or bad any networking event was, be sure to communicate afterward in a timely manner. If you know you left a good impression, following up can help drive that impression further. If you are concerned that the meeting wasn’t successful, consider locating something from the news or case law that could be emailed over and take the focus off of the meeting and shift it to the fact that you were listening and interested in what the person you met with had to say.
Jared Pierce hung his own shingle right out of law school and has spent every minute since then discovering the joys and difficulties of chasing success. Anyone who has ever met Jared will tell you h