If you want to improve your communication and networking skills, Andrea Nierenberg is the mentor you should seek out.
Nierenberg, the founder and president of Nierenberg Consulting Group, has authored and coauthored numerous books on networking, and is an in-demand speaker at professional development and marketing and sales events.
After listening to her speak or reading one of her books, you'll feel confident in both projecting yourself and your brand and in listening carefully and actively to others. Nierenberg maintains a regularly updated blog that is chock full of great networking suggestions and communication tips. Here are some highlights that may help you create and foster new relationships:
Develop a 20-second infomercial
When people ask you what you do, you want to have a *great* response that gets their attention quickly. Nierenberg calls this your "20-second infomercial," and offers several steps to crafting an effective personal elevator pitch:
- Use a job description that paints a "word picture" in other people's minds that is easy to visualize.
- Convey real enthusiasm about your job and industry. When you’re excited about your profession, you'll naturally attract interest from others.
- Specify how you bring value and solve problems in order to distinguish yourself from your competition
Sounds like a lot to pack into 20 seconds, right? That's why you need to practice, practice, practice until you've got it down perfectly, and are able to adjust the language on the spot to engage with different audiences.
Set a goal for every event you attend
The secret to networking is simply meeting people and developing connections. Thus, Nierenberg suggests that any time you attend a professional event, you should set a goal of meeting two new people. You may end up meeting far more than that, but you want to develop a real connection with (at least) two of them. You might research the event and the speakers before you go in order to identify some possible targets.
You rarely meet someone who volunteers that he or she is "great at remembering names." Usually it's the opposite—people always profess to be terrible at putting names to faces. Obviously name recall is important for networking, so if you're in the hazy-brained majority you should proactively try to improve this skill. Nierenberg has some great tipsfor remembering names, including:
- Maintaining eye contact during conversations to establish a more intimate (and thus memorable) connection.
- Repeating names immediately after hearing them for the first time ("Hi, Scott, it's great to meet you!") in order to reinforce the name through repetition.
- Forming an association about the person (Scott loves rock climbing—just like your friend Gary) in order to trigger their name in your head at a future meeting.
Skip the lunch date
Too many networking get-togethers take place at a deli, where you're forced to mix business talk with bites of your grinder. Instead of meeting for lunch, try something more creative. Nierenberg suggests scheduling a recreational activity (tennis, bowling, even a long walk), visiting a museum or specialty store (something your contact is interested in), or meeting up for an industry event or cocktail party. Whatever event you choose, be respectful of your contact's time and try to have a flexible schedule.
Don't forget the value of a phone call
Talking on the phone with somebody almost feels like writing in cursive—an exceedingly formal but altogether dated form of communication. Most professionals stay in contact via email or the occasional Google Hangout. But Andrea makes the case that phone calls are still an important part of business, and an absolutely critical form of networking. You should always return phone calls within 48 hours—there's no excuse for not calling back when your smartphone is always with you. And avoid multi-tasking when you're talking to somebody. Treat a phone call like an in-person meeting and give the individual on the other end of the line your full attention.
These are great tips, right? If you want to get more actionable advice, head over to Nierenberg's website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter. And if you want to learn more about applying these suggestions on social media, download our 4½ Minute Guide to Networking on LinkedIn.