By Linda Van Valkenburgh, MS, CCMC, CJSS
Often people pull me aside when I am facilitating a meeting and sheepishly confess that they find networking to be an extreme source of stress.  Some say they hate it. Other people say that they feel that they are incompetent. Another group asks what they should do because they are extremely shy. For all of you people out there who struggle with the concept of networking, this posting is for you.

Networking is all about building relationships. The good news is that as a result of the economic crisis, people tell me that they find that more people are willing to share and help one another. Whatever method you feel comfortable using whether it is face-to-face; picking up the phone; writing an email; a tweet; a facebook post or LinkedIn message; today,  more than at any other time in history, there are a myriad number of ways to use to relate to other people. So, what are the considerations when you start networking?

To start, realize that this is something that has to become woven into the fabric of your business life whether you are in career transition or not.  I often use the phrase “You will never not network again!” What that means is that you will no longer operate on automatic pilot when you are out with people.  You will pay attention to the things that people are saying in conversations and see how you can make a difference in their lives and to keep the relationship moving forward. Perhaps someone you know has a hobby that you share. You come across an article about it or find out about an event that involves it.  A quick phone call or email can go a long way to moving a relationship forward.  As long as you are authentic and genuine in your dealings with people, you are on your way to creating an enduring relationship.

Always remember that you are looking to establish long-term relationships with people. Your interactions must be sincere and provide something to the person you are networking with. Focus on the needs of the other person or group without expecting something in return and you will be amazed at the strength with which your relationships will flourish.  Offering someone the benefits of your expertise, sharing your contacts, making face-to-face introductions to business associates or providing business reconnaissance has led to success for many of my clients.  Taking the time to cultivate and nurture your network can be a tremendous source of support. I facilitate two meetings a month at my office and I am amazed at the generosity of the attendees at my meetings. As always, it goes without saying that you must have excellent follow-up skills in providing whatever information you promise to your fellow networkers.

What can help the shy person? Depending on the event, see if you can get to the event slightly early and approach the facilitator. Let them know that this is the first time that you are at this event and see if they will introduce you. Be transparent to people and let them know that this is your first time at the meeting. Prepare some questions in advance to have as conversation starters such as “How long have you been a member?” Or, “What is it that you enjoy about attending these meetings?”  If there is something about the work that you do that can be used in conversation, bring it up. I have a client who is a blogger and at networking meetings she will sometimes ask people what they do and, if applicable, will see if she can interview them for her blog. This can be the beginning of a series of interactions that can lead to an enduring relationship.  Being prepared with conversation starters can help to boost your confidence and a confident you helps put your best foot forward.

Please let me know if this provided you with valuable information by leaving me a comment. As always, I wish you every success.