Stephanie Naznitsky shares her top tips for boosting the quantity and quality of your professional connections

Mingling in a room full of strangers can be an awkward – even daunting – prospect.  For many, networking is a learned skill that requires forethought and practice. Here are 10 tips for breaking the ice, keeping the conversation alive and making lasting connections.

1. Prepare an elevator speech

Introducing yourself can be as simple as saying hello and giving your name. It’s the follow-up that makes the difference between an awkward silence or a friendly chat. Before your next event, come up with a 30- to 60-second elevator speech about where you work, the executive you support, what you do and why you’re there. Then practice your delivery until it’s natural and smooth.

2. Take the initiative

Look around the room and see who’s alone. Then go up to that person and introduce yourself. Chances are he or she will be delighted to talk to you. Even if you consider yourself an introvert, take the initiative to meet people during breaks, while standing in line for refreshments, around the banquet table and before a session begins.

3. Ask questions

Don’t dominate the conversation in an effort to impress. You’ll find you achieve the opposite. After your brief introduction, ask new contacts who they are and what they do. You can find out what you have in common and determine how to further the conversation.

4. Have a backup

You’re probably all too familiar with that awkward moment when no one has anything else to say. Prepare for this possibility by keeping a mental list of conversation kick-starters. Something as simple as “What are you looking forward to during this conference?” or, “I loved that last session. What’s been your favorite so far?” can break through a lull.

5. Pay attention

Whether you’re in a one-on-one or group conversation, give each person your undivided attention. Doing so shows respect and professionalism. To accomplish this, listen thoughtfully and avoid scanning the room to see who else is there.

6. Solicit opinions

Most people love to share their views on what they know and what’s important to them. A good way to keep a conversation going — and pick up insider tips — is ask others what they think about latest industry trends, technologies and other relevant topics.

7. Don’t go negative

The administrative world may seem vast, but people are highly connected. It should go without saying but bears repeating: An industry conference is not the place to badmouth your boss, your company, or any of the attendees or speakers.

8. Wrap it up

Just as you use your soft skills to start and sustain a conversation, know when it’s time to conclude it. Unless you really hit it off with new acquaintances or are sitting at the same table during a meal, it’s best to bring a one-on-one conversation to an end after about 10 minutes so you don’t monopolize their time. But if you have made a real connection …

9. Exchange contact info

Let them know you’ve really enjoyed getting to know them. If keeping in touch seems like a natural next step, hand them your business card and ask if they’d like to connect on LinkedIn or meet for coffee some time. Once you get home, send them a quick email and stay in touch via the appropriate channels.

10. Keep attending events

Go to regular networking meetings in your area and to industry conferences where you’re likely to run into the same people. Online connections are important, but there’s nothing like in-person events for getting better acquainted and deepening professional relationships.

Regardless of whether networking is your favorite pastime or a challenge, it will always be an important tool in advancing your career and enhancing your reputation among your peers. By following these guidelines, you can take steps to boost both the quantity and quality of your professional connections.

Stephanie Naznitsky is executive director of the administrative and customer support practice at Robert Half, the world’s first and largest specialized talent solutions firm, where she manages operations for nearly 300 practice locations worldwide. For ... (Read More)

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