10 Networking Skills You Need to Master
Networking. Some people love it, some people hate it. But there is one thing for certain - developing your networking skills is a great way to improve your chances of future business and career success.
In this guide, we walk you through everything you need to know about networking and offer tips on how to improve the 10 most important networking skills.
Want to improve your networking skills, but don’t have the time to read the full article? Here is the lowdown:
Networking is all about building connections with those who are relevant to your business and career
Building networking skills is crucial in helping you identify new opportunities
Networking usually happens at events, in the office and at client meetings - but it can actually take place practically anywhere
There are countless networking skills to master - some of the most important include:
taking a proactive approach
actively listening to others
improving your emotional intelligence
identifying body language
being respectful to everyone
What Are Networking Skills?
Before we dive into how you can improve your networking skills, let’s start by defining exactly what we mean by the term ‘networking’. Here is what the internet has to say:
“Networking is the exchange of information and ideas among people with a common profession or special interest, usually in an informal social setting. Networking often begins with a single point of common ground.” - Investopedia
“the activity of meeting people who might be useful to know, especially in your job” - Cambridge Dictionary
Although these definitions differ in their approach, it is clear that networking is an essential part of growth - whether growing your business, growing your career prospects or growing an idea amongst similar-minded individuals.
Of course, networking isn't as simple as just telling people your business is excellent or that you should be their next hire - networking is an art that takes skill and practice.
Networking skills come naturally to some, whereas others find them more ticky to refine. However, as with all skills, they can be improved with the right know-how and dedication. In this article, we will provide you with the know-how…but you will have to provide the dedication yourself.
Why Are Networking Skills Important?
Business coaches will often tell you that networking skills are essential to success, but they rarely explain exactly why this is. So, here are the top 5 reasons you should spend time improving your networking skills:
Find new opportunities (such as sales, new jobs and PR opportunities (e.g. content collaborations, speaking gigs etc))
Build strong relationships
Improve your resume (networking skills are highly desirable amongst employers)
Find industry talent (which you can hire for future projects)
Improve your networking confidence (which makes networking events way more fun!)
Opportunities For Networking
Before we jump into the 10 top networking skills, you need to know exactly where you can practice those skills. After all, sitting in your home office or at your desk with your headphones on isn’t providing you with the opportunities you need to become a networking master.
Here are a few examples of common places you can network:
Internal networking with colleagues (get up and walk around your office)
In reality, you can find networking opportunities practically anywhere.
In fact, a story that has recently been getting around on LinkedIn demonstrates this perfectly.
The poster highlighted that during a recent (unpredicted) cold snap he found himself getting off a train after work to find his windscreen completely frozen over. Luckily for him, he had a tin of anti-freeze tucked away in his car for such an occasion.
After clearing his windscreen he noticed lots of other people in a similar situation, all struggling to remove the ice - using credit cards and even their fingernails to get rid of the covering of frozen water.
So, as any decent person would do, he did the rounds offering his trusty tin of anti-freeze to help others clear their windscreen. During this process he started chatting to each person, finding that many worked in the same industry as him, gathering business cards and making connections.
Best of all - he had already made a great impression by helping them out of a frustrating situation.
…now that is great networking!
Top 10 Networking Skills
So, how do you actually improve networking skills? We explore the top 10 networking skills and offer you some advice on how to improve them.
Proactivity is often overlooked as an essential skill in successful networking. But when you think about it, it is almost impossible to successfully network unless you actually get out there and speak to the people who matter most to you and your business.
TOP TIP: Book yourself onto industry events, go to local networking events and find clubs where similar-minded people socialise and join them…just get out there and speak to people, you never know who you might meet.
They say everyone’s favourite topic is themselves.
But two people talking about themselves tirelessly is hardly a ‘decent conversation’. Improving your active listening skills will help you to build strong connections with people and also notice where there are opportunities to take advantage of.
TOP TIP: Active listening is seen as such an important skill that there are countless courses available - just search for those being held locally, or find one that is being run online.
However, you can drastically improve your active listening by taking a real interest in what people are saying. Ensure you are facing the person you are speaking to, don’t interrupt them, listen carefully to what they are saying and show you understand by using positive body language and repeating key points back to them.
Understanding people’s tone is an essential part of active listening and networking on the whole. The tone someone uses can tell you more about what they are trying to communicate.
After all, even simple phrases can mean two completely different things when said in different tones. For example, “I love public transport” could be a positive statement when said in an enthusiastic tone, but could equally be very negative if said in a sarcastic tone.
Plus, better understanding your own tone will help you better communicate with others.
TOP TIP: It is ok to check someone's tone if you aren’t sure. For example, you may ask “was that sarcastic?” if you aren’t clear on whether the statement is truthful or said tongue in cheek.
Emotional Intelligence (EQ)
Did you know that 71% of hiring managers value EQ over IQ when looking for employees?
But EQ doesn’t just make you more employable, it also makes you a better networker. Understanding your own emotions will help you better tailor how you respond to others, rather than letting your emotions take control.
This is especially important when discussing topics that can stir emotions such as politics, money or global affairs.
TOP TIP: Emotional intelligence requires three steps:
Recognise your own emotions and the emotions of others
Understand your emotions and label them accordingly (for example: “I feel sad about what this person just said”)
Manage your emotions by using emotional information to guide your behaviour.
There is no denying that sometimes the easiest topics to talk about are negative ones:
“I hate my job”
“The weather is awful a the moment”
“I’m sooo tired of [insert sports team] losing all the time”
But moaning isn’t exactly the best way to make a great impression with those you are networking with. Instead, try and be as positive as possible in everything you say.
TOP TIP: If you are struggling to be positive, try turning it into a game - ask yourself “how can I say something positive (and truthful) about this negative topic?”
Of course, not all topics call for unfaltering positivity - so use your judgement on applying this tip.
A confident person comes across as a competent person. So, whether you are networking because you want people to trust you enough to buy from you or because you want them to think you are the best person for them to hire - confidence is key.
TOP TIP: Confidence is often communicated through your body language. Stand up straight, look the person you are talking to in the eye and don’t fidget.
Reading Body Language
…you are at a networking event and you spot someone standing in the corner alone. You pop over to say hello and notice they are showing signs that they feel nervous and out of place.
How you react to this person will have a huge impact on how they feel about you.
If you gently encourage them, get them talking about something they are interested in and listen carefully, they are likely to see you in a positive way. Whereas if you drag them into the middle of the event and try and have a dance-off, they are probably going to have very negative feelings towards you.
TOP TIP: Take time to notice how people are holding themselves and what they are generally doing with their bodies.
Educating yourself on body language can help you identify how someone is really feeling. However, it is also important to remember that body language is only really an indicator - for example, if someone is shaking, this could mean they are angry or nervous…or could simply be because they are cold.
Sense of Humour
Networking events can be boring - it’s just a fact. So, injecting a good sense of humour into any networking situation can be a smart way to make a great impression.
TOP TIP: Improving your sense of humour can be tricky. However, often some simple jokes (even if heard before) can lighten a situation. Just try to avoid anything that may be offensive - as what you find funny may not be so funny to someone else.
Respect plays a huge part in networking.
All too often individuals at networking events focus on talking to only those who can benefit them. This is not only a little sleazy, but is ultimately likely to backfire in the long run.
Ignoring those who ‘don’t matter to your goals’ is disrespectful. This can actually make it harder to make a good impression on those who ‘do matter’. Plus, you never know where someone may be in a few years - that apprentice you can’t be bothered to speak to right now, maybe a major budget holder or employing manager in the next few years.
TIP TOP: Don’t be a dick. Treat everyone, from the top CEOs to the guy serving canapes with the same level of respect.
So, you have followed all the tips we have outlined in this guide and you’ve had a fantastic networking event.
The day after, you are back in the office and you’re feeling great about yourself…
…but three months pass and not a single opportunity has come your way.
It’s at this point that you need to refer back to our first tip for ‘being proactive’. Don’t just sit and hope that things will work out after networking - follow up with everyone you met.
TOP TIP: It’s best not to jump straight on any opportunities you identified at the networking event (unless time is of the essence). Instead, follow up with everyone you met the day after and tell them how great it was to meet them. Then, a week or so later, follow up about the opportunity.
Good Networking Skills: Summary
It is clear that developing your networking skills is a great way to grow your business and progress your career. But networking successfully isn’t as simple as just showing up to networking events.
Follow the tips we have outlined in this guide to become a master at networking.
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Q: What are networking skills?
A: Professional networking is all about building connections with those who have similar interests, work in the same industry or may have opportunities that are of interest to you in the future. Your networking skills are the skills you use in order to build those connections.
Q: Why are networking skills important?
A: Networking skills are important for several reasons. Firstly, building a strong network will help you find new opportunities to grow your business or further your career. Networking skills are also highly desirable amongst employers, so developing them will drastically increase your chances of future employment success.
Q: What networking skills should I master?
A: There are countless networking skills that are worth mastering. Some of the most important include taking a proactive approach, actively listening to those you are networking with, developing your emotional intelligence and learning to pick up on body language.