For most business professionals, networking is hard work. You hustle to meet as many thought leaders as possible in the shortest amount of time, make small talk, and rate your success according to the stack of business cards you’ve collected.
Instead of attending all those awkward coffee dates and boring meet-and-greets, you could be using strategic techniques that improve the number, variety, and substance of the connections you make.
Here are seven useful techniques to try:
1. Create a way to work together.
How many times has LinkedIn asked you to congratulate someone for something and you have no idea who they are? Instead of collecting LinkedIn contacts, focus on making deeper, more solid connections. It’s not just who you know, it’s how you know them.
Dr. David Burkus, author of Under New Management: How Leading Organizations are Upending Business as Usual and the organizer of the virtual “Super Connector Summit,” recommends the “shared activity principle.”
“Rather than invite someone to coffee, invite them into a project involving something they are passionate about, have some expertise in, and can contribute to,” says Burkus. “You end up learning more and developing a deeper bond by partaking in an activity together than you do in just chatting.”
2. Host an “un-networking lunch.”
Cadre founder and author of Networking is Not Working Derek Coburn has hosted hundreds of what he calls “un-networking lunches.” These are roundtable events in which each attendee introduces their business, current areas of focus, and anything they could use help with.
Coburn encourages guests to share recent success stories, problems, or events and causes they are involved in. Reciprocity is key: Everyone shares and everyone has the opportunity to make new connections and get valuable advice.
3. Personalize your pitch.
When Austin Dixon, the CEO of Filter Haus, invites people to participate in his new podcast, he makes it clear that he’s not just going down a list of potential guests. “Instead of shooting over a boring Facebook message,” Dixon explains, “I do research on each person I want to have on the podcast, film a quick one to two-minute video to be more personal and standout in their inbox. Then, I have an end CTA of coming into my podcast.”
4. Get out of your comfort zone.
Burkus advises against swimming in a sea of sameness. “Avoid networks that are echo chambers because no new information or opportunities happen inside that echo chamber,” he says.
Building a variety of individuals and industries into your network helps you uncover new information and discover unexpected opportunities.
5. Search for the uncommon commonality.
It’s only natural to be drawn to people whose experiences, memories and emotions are similar to our own. When aiming to establish meaningful bonds with others, look for uncommon commonalities, those unique similarities people discover about themselves during conversation.
“Humans tend to cluster around common commonalities such as gender, industry and ethnicity,” Burkus observes. “It’s the unexpected commonalities that are binding and give people more of a reason to stay in touch.”
6. Don’t forget to follow up.
For extroverted personalities like President Bill Clinton, following up with new connections comes naturally. In his early days of networking, he would take notes on an index card after meeting a new person. Every night, he would call five people whose names he’d gotten from new contacts. These interactions ultimately resulted in two presidential terms and one of the most incredible Rolodexes in history.
Not quite as outgoing as Clinton? That’s what email is for. Reaching out to the folks you’ve just met by sending them an article or travel tip will make them more likely to remember you.
7. Leverage the “majority illusion.”
Social science calls the art of making something look more popular or connected than it really is “the majority illusion.” This is one area where the questionable career advice, “Fake it ’til you make it,” actually has some relevance.
Whether you’re trying to create a whole new category of contacts or connect to people in a particular company, make a point of asking people in your network who they know in that field or organization. This will earn you a handful of contacts that can serve as references or “brokers.” Only ask people you know well, trust and respect, because you should be ready to return the favor.
Uncovering the overlapping connections between yourself and people in your network can help you identify the major influencers in any industry. You’ll benefit from the majority illusion as the influencers start to recognize your name on their contacts’ feeds.