Six degrees of separation is the idea that there are six or fewer people between you and someone you want to connect with. The concept—introduced in a short story by a Hungarian author in 1929—is all the motivation any professional should need to step up their networking efforts. It’s a powerful realization that if you grow your network, you can have access to far more people than you ever imagined. Here are five tips for honing this important career advancement skill.
Being fake and superficial might seem like a quick and effective way to ingratiate yourself with large numbers of people, but only authenticity leads to strong, lasting connections. By being yourself—worts and all—you humanize yourself, which makes you accessible and relatable to others. A great way to make a good first impression at networking events is to sharpen your storytelling skills. Studies have found that stories engage people and they are remembered far easier and for far longer than facts alone. Lastly, if you’re feeling nervous at a social gathering, the best thing you can do is smile. A simple smile will serve to relax you and invite others in.
Connect Don’t Sell
We all want to be liked. But the goal of networking events is less about selling yourself and more about building meaningful relationships. In order to increase your chances of connecting with others, become a good listener. This requires talking half as much as the other person, and asking engaging, open-ended questions. By doing this, you’re more likely to uncover shared interests between you and your new acquaintance, which is the optimal way to build a rapport.
Technology offers many tools to connect with others, but face-to-face meetings are far more indelible. There’s no interesting experiences or lasting memories created when we connect with someone online. Networking events provide context and the opportunity for humor, which is what makes them far better for building relationships.
The final moments you spend with someone you just met are crucial. Be sure to make eye contact, express gratitude for having met them, and leave them with your business card.
All of your efforts to connect with others go to waste if you don’t follow up. Send the person an email the next day, connect with them on LinkedIn, or engage with their social media pages. Also, jot down notes after each networking event so that you remember salient pieces of information about the people you met. This way, if you come across something that might interest one of your new contacts, you can pass it along.
Networking leads to valuable connections, which over time will increase your career opportunities. The old adage that it’s not what you know, but who you know is still relevant. So get out there, smile, and broaden your horizons!