Focus on the Forum is a regular guest column where a representative of the Women’s Enterprise Forum shares insights on topics for which they are Subject Matter Experts. The Forum is comprised of WBENC-Certified WBEs who represent the voice of all women's business enterprises and engage in networking and development activities with other WBEs, member corporations and government entities. Join their meeting on June 19th in Las Vegas at the National Conference & Business Fair.
Some people network to collect business cards; I prefer to collect stories. That’s because behind every successful business leader is a story. Authentic networking gives you an opportunity to tell your own story and, more importantly, be enriched by listening to other people tell theirs.
Fresh out of college and new in my first job, I attended an IABC event where I witnessed the power of authentic networking firsthand. I remember feeling awkward about introducing myself to strangers, and didn’t quite know how to go about it. Then, one professional included me in her conversation group, and introduced me to a few other people. The rest, as they say, is history.
Over the years, it’s been my experience that the most meaningful networking occurs when I am listening to people tell me their stories and making that personal connection. The people I’ve met through networking have become my friends, mentors, clients, business partners and employees. They have enriched me both professionally and personally. And for that, I will always be grateful to the person who showed me the power of authentic networking by welcoming me into her conversation.
Here are five tips you can use to build important relationships with the smart and talented people you meet at your next industry event:
- Arrive early. Being among the first attendees to show up at an event offers you the chance to thrive in one-on-one conversations before the room gets too crowded.
- Connect first; exchange business cards later. Engaging in a purposeful conversation will make a lasting impression that gives relevance to the contact information on your business card.
- Set a goal. Deciding to speak to a specific number of people gives you a concrete goal to work toward and can help you focus on more substantive conversations.
- Volunteer. Working an event presents natural opportunities to talk with organizers and attendees. This can be particularly helpful for people who are introverts or new to an organization.
- Listen. Asking the right questions, then listening with the intent to learn establishes a foundation for a lasting business relationship.
If you are newer in your career, network to soak up the wisdom around you. And, make sure to ask a lot of questions along the way. If you are mid-way in your career, networking may be just the boost you need to overcome the challenges standing in your way. And, if you are further along in your career, embrace the power of authentic networking by asking someone, “What’s your story?”
About Jill Vitiello and Vitiello Communications Group
Jill Vitiello is president of Vitiello Communications Group (VTLO), a global leader in business communications. VTLO works with executives in highly regulated industries to engage people and inspire them to achieve great outcomes. A prolific blogger, published author and speaker, Jill is passionate about the power of communication, entrepreneurship and empowering women. She has received numerous honors, including the Communications Leadership Exchange Achievement Award, New York Business Journal Women of Influence Award, Enterprising Woman of the Year Award, NJBIZ Best Fifty Women in Business, and the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) Gold Quill and New Jersey chapter Communicator of the Year. In 2016, Jill was elected to the International Executive Board of IABC. Jill earned a Master of Arts degree in journalism from New York University, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and a Certificate in Women’s Studies from Rutgers University. Vitiello Communications Group has been WBENC-Certified since 2008.