“This is the toughest part of my job”, Says Peter.

I looked at my former mentor in shock. “Are you kidding me? This is so much fun. There’s so much to learn.”

Circa 2001, I’m at a huge networking conference with some of the greatest research being presented. It was all so exciting and exhilarating to me. However, I failed to see his point of view.

At the time, I had no real reason to do anything but learn from the people, posters and presentations around me. However, he became quite popular and started to become a great influence in the field. I failed to realize that my boss (a self proclaimed introvert) found it exhausting to constantly engage so many people who appeared to be such obvious takers. It zapped him of his energy, which lead to missed connections. He would end up retiring back to his hotel room, exhausted.

Throughout the years, I’ve seen many young professionals (scientists and business people, alike) try to master their networking skills. At times it’s like watching a 6th grade school dance. However, in the meantime, productive research projects can be lost due to the awkward interactions. To help remedy this, I suggest 3 steps to ensure a successful network connection:

  1. Learn.
    Perhaps that’s a given for any academic event, but it’s also important to connect with the projects, posters and individuals you’re not normally interested in. I find that going into any social interaction with the mindset of learning about the other person is the best approach. Don’t be so quick to dismiss someone because their work doesn’t interest you. You never know who they’re connected to.
  2. Connect.
    Finding a connection, shared interest, or resource in common with the other person can facilitate a self promotion. In most cases, the other person will facilitate the conversation by asking what you do. I see too many people begin, or take over a conversation by talking mostly about themselves, especially when not asked. At which point, you’ll most likely hear the other person say, “Excuse me, but I see a colleague of mine. Nice to meet you. Bye.”
  3. Give.
    Most professional networkers will agree that the cardinal rule is to NEVER ever ask for any favors when you meet somebody for the first time. The purpose is to solidify a connection. In my 20 years of networking, the sure way to codify that connection is to provide a tangible value to the other person. That value can come in the form of a helpful career information, a valued tool or resource for their work, or to facilitate a sought out collaboration. Whatever value you provide, give them a pen and paper to write that information down. That paper should come in the form of your business card. The act of writing will trigger their brain to commit that meeting to memory. You’ll increase your likelihood that they’ll remember you in the future.

The sure fire way to get good at networking is to practice every chance you get. Practice not only at professional events, but social and public events; parties, sporting events, or even with the person next to you on the plane.business people having coffee break during seminar

What was the best conversation that you’ve engaged in at networking event? What made it memorable? Leave a comment.

Just an FYI, I’ll be at the Keystone Conference the 22nd-27th of this month. If you see me, come say hello.