The one thing you cannot create more of is time, so you need to maximize every opportunity you have to its fullest potential — especially when you’re networking.
You know the importance of networking for your career today and in the future. What you may not know, however, is exactly how to use a networking event to enhance your personal brand. If you want to set yourself apart and establish a great, lasting reputation, your best bet is to use these events to practice and improve your soft skills — especially as a listener.
In today’s world, people are too quick to talk about themselves, and if they aren’t talking, they are thinking about what they want to say next. Very few of us ever really listen to the people with whom we are speaking. This leads to one-sided conversations where both parties are simply talking at one another.
Here are some tips on how to become a better listener and utilize your next networking event to bolster your personal brand:
1. Do Some Preparation
Before you attend the networking event, see if you can find out who else is attending. Are there any names you recognize? Take a look at your LinkedIn connections: Will any of them be there?
Write down a list of names of the attendees with whom you want to connect at the event. It really helps to be a LinkedIn connection first. That way, people at the event will at least recognize your face as familiar.
Look up your target connections to learn more about them. For each person, prepare a relevant lead-in question based on the information you uncover. This will help you get conversations going on a more personable and engaging note, ensuring a positive first impression.
2. Good Listeners Are Remembered
You will talk to many different people at a networking event, but as mentioned above, those who stand out to you will be those who really listen and really respond to you. You should try to be one of those people for other attendees.
Everyone is an expert on themselves, so their default is to talk mostly about themselves. Instead of returning the favor and talking about yourself, focus on the other person. You’ll earn a lot more respect in return. Good listeners are rare, but they always make their conversation partners feel great about themselves. Sure, being a good listener may not be the kind of skill you can list on a resume, but it is the kind of skill that makes your reputation skyrocket.
3. Ask Insightful Questions
You can boost your credibility significantly by asking insightful questions that encourage the other person to continue talking about something for which they have a passion. Remember, the idea is to let your new connections do most of the talking while you act as an intentional listener.
As a person is talking, listen for key ideas that can clue you in on how you might be able to add value to their life. For example, if someone is talking about a problem they have, think about whether you have a solution. You may not be an expert in their specific line of work, but you may know someone who is and can offer assistance.
The networking event itself isn’t always the best time to go into specific details, since interruptions can happen at any moment. Instead, get the person’s contact information and follow up with them later.
When you combine listening skills with insightful questions, people will take notice. When you leave a conversation, people will be thinking very highly of you — even if you didn’t say much.
4. Don’t Forget to Follow Up
Even if you have mastered the first three tips, your efforts will be wasted if you fail to follow up. You don’t have to call, email, or text your new connections as soon as you’ve left the event, but consider reaching out to thank them for their time within the next day or so. At that point, you can invite them to other events or see if they would like to get together with you individually. You don’t necessarily have to follow up with every person with whom you talked at the event, but you should follow up with the people you connected with the most.
It takes a well-rounded effort to be seen as an expert in your industry. Listening is a key part of that effort, especially when you attend networking events. You want to be remembered for the right reasons — and being remembered as the person who sincerely cared about helping others is one of the best ways to be remembered. To keep you personal brand at the top of others’ minds, take the time to connect with them by putting your listening skills into action.
Erin Kennedy, MCD, CMRW, CPRW, CERW, CEMC, is a certified professional resume writer, career consultant, and the president of Professional Resume Services.