15 Strategies to Make Networking Feel More Natural

Feel awkward when you network? Try these tips to make it feel more organic and even fun.

Newsweek Expert Forum members share industry insights.
Newsweek Expert Forum members share industry insights. Newsweek Expert Forum

Many people network with the intention of trying to sell a business leader on their product or service, whether to get seed money or to try and create a partnership. Because of this, networking events may end up feeling awkward and uncomfortable when it's all about the hard sell.

However, networking doesn't have to feel like you're "schmoozing." Business leaders can use these events to make real connections and build solid foundations for future business relations, all without pitching an idea.

Below, a panel of Newsweek Expert Forum members offered their best advice for making networking more natural and fun to build long-lasting connections.

1. Don't Start Selling Right Away

Every person in that room is aware that they are there to network, so there is no reason to immediately start chatting about how you can work together. Never start pitching or selling right away. Instead, start to build a real relationship so that you both feel confident that you'll enjoy working together when that time comes. - Alex Wilson, The Giving Block

2. 'Network' Outside of Events

I avoid networking "events" and focus on everyday interactions. For example, I recently told another customer at the hardware store that I couldn't wait to finish my project and have a cocktail. It turns out he owned a micro-distillery and was having HR issues. I bought him breakfast the following morning, explained how to resolve his most immediate concern and he became a client on the spot. - Frank Cania, HR Compliance Experts LLC

3. Put the Fun First

My company held an event where we invited partners, leads and clients to come to an IMAX showing of the new Top Gun movie in costume. During an event like this, keep the business talk light and then follow up with a call later to explore potential partnerships. - Will Erlandson, Relevance.com

4. Change Your Mindset

People often approach networking with how they'll benefit, turning it into an endless chase that makes everyone feel drained and uninspired. Go into each conversation with the goal to give. Can you provide an introduction? Can you give a new approach to solving their business problem? Can you share the secret to how you got your new role? Can you invite them to join a professional association? Give to get back. - Loren Margolis, Training & Leadership Success LLC

5. Make Relationships That Matter

Early on, I was told relationships didn't matter because the people I was trying to network with only cared about production or money. I ignored this advice and the people who told me that are nowhere near the impact level I have on our industry now. Relationships are the most important thing in business and life. - Justin Brock, Bobby Brock Insurance

6. Build Long-Term Relationships

Often, people are too focused on "what's in it for me" in the short term when it comes to networking. Instead, focus on connecting with other professionals and developing relationships that will last over the long term. This strategy helps take away the urgency to "sell" while networking, which makes the interaction a lot more fun and can often lead to lucrative referral relationships as well. - Israel Tannenbaum, Withum

7. Keep in Touch With Your Networking Contacts

The fun of networking is usually immediate, but the impact of meeting people outside of your immediate circles can be years later. I have found that even a decade later, chance encounters can pay off when someone you met before suggests you for a position, award or just provides an important introduction. - Alexa Kimball, Harvard Medical Faculty Physicians at Beth Israel Deaconess

8. Wait Until The End to Bring Up Business

I always like to avoid talking business up until the very last moment. When we are genuinely interested in other people and want to get to know them at these networking events, that can help us stand out from the crowd. I'm not saying that we shouldn't ask for the business, but we can do this later when the "car salesmen" type of people are no longer around. - Krisztina Veres, Veres Career Consulting

9. Be Curious About Those Around You

Be curious and don't get right down to business. Instead, ask about things that may uncover shared interests, experiences, causes or values—that is what connection is based on. When you engage in a conversation to truly learn about someone, the relationship develops naturally. Seek to find a value add. Follow up in the first conversation. Extend the connection and watch the rapport grow. - Michelle Tillis Lederman, Author, The Connector's Advantage

10. Find a Common Interest

Most people look at networking with the view of how it can benefit them personally in some way, shape or form. Think about networking with people who can benefit from you. Think about what's in it for them and what you can offer or help with. Finding a common interest or passion that you share, non-work related, will help build a fun relationship beyond work. - Nita Kohli, Kohli Advisors

11. Create Authentic Bonds With Others

Authenticity goes a long way. Build authentic friendships and relationships not for the sake of building an empire but for the sake of creating a community. At the end of the day, these are people you will be doing business with. Don't you want to trust them and be equally inspired by them? Look for synergies that go beyond a single financial transaction. - Uriel Saenz, THE US LIFESTYLE GROUP LLC

12. Use Networking to Gain Insight From Others

Networking is not like advertising where you have a plan of action, use it for resolutions and ideas to interact to learn from it. For example, I was having a hard time on one specific day about employees leaving for lunch when they wanted to. I got on the forum, got all kinds of interaction and put a plan in place to resolve the issue fast. - Tammy Sons, Tn Nursery

13. Tailor Networking to Meet Your Needs

In 2022, networking can mean so many different things. Traditional networking is still an option, however, with advancements in technology, networking can present itself in a variety of different ways. If you are more comfortable with "social media" networking, this should be your focus. Tailor networking to you. - Kira Graves, Kira Graves Consulting

14. Break the Ice With Food

Having great snacks and food is always helpful. Sometimes people need a boost to take the edge off, which can be done using a structured system for meeting people in a networking environment. You can accomplish this by having lists of various kinds where the networking attendees have to talk to other people to complete the list. - Lisa Lundy, Lisa A Lundy

15. Share Concisely and Listen to Others

Use networking as a time to improve your listening skills and ability to share concisely. You will remember and be remembered by the people that you were present with and truly demonstrated an interest in who they are rather than what they can do for you. - Leah Marone, Corporate Wellness Consultant

The Newsweek Expert Forum is an invitation-only network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.
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