Top 10 tips on how to improve your networking skills

Networking, the term for making connections, whether social or business related, is a beneficial skill to cultivate. People with strong networking skills are more likely to find a great job and a great spouse. They tend to be "go-getters," living busy lives filled with opportunities. How do they do it?

For some people, successful networking seems to be as natural as breathing. For the rest of us, it takes a little effort. If you'd like to improve your networking skills, here are a few tips:

Take a class. There are a number of classes designed specifically to help improve business and social communication skills. One of the most well-known companies offering such classes is Dale Carnegie Training. Classes and seminars are available for both business and personal growth in the areas of effective communication, including networking. 

Another possibility is to purchase materials from networking specialists that are designed to teach you professional networking skills. One such company, M. Salmon&Associates, offers full-day seminars on the topic, but for those who cannot attend in person, the materials are fully covered in a self-study format, available for purchase.

Go buy the book. Ask a friendly salesperson at your favorite bookstore for recommendations. There are hundreds of books available to help you hone your interpersonal and networking skills; ask about top sellers and those that are considered "classics."

Practice makes perfect. Mastering a new skill requires practice, and networking is no exception. If you are fearful about your abilities, think about what you would like to say to people and then practice your "speech" in front of a trusted friend. Sound too intimidating? Begin by practicing in front of a mirror.

Start small. If you are uneasy about approaching people, offering your help, and relaying your needs, start by being more open with those closest to you. The most basic networking involves nothing more than forming healthy, give-and-take relationships. If you know someone who is looking for a job in your field, offer to put in a good word for him with your boss. Helping someone advance his career by introducing him into your workplace is great way to begin forming a bond. The day may come when he will return the favor. That is networking.

Build your confidence. Once you have successfully approached someone with an offer to help, take the next step. Ask for what you need. It doesn't have to be from the same person that you helped--networking does not imply a favor owed--but put yourself out there and ask for someone's help or advice. If you've been hoping to meet someone with whom you can attend social gatherings, ask your friends if they know anyone who has the qualities that you appreciate. Many great "love connections" began as introductions from mutual acquaintances!

Do what you love. Find an organized club for people who share some of your interests or hobbies. Volunteer for a cause that you are passionate about. Put yourself out there. When you are busy doing something that is fun and meaningful, your networking skills and ability to form connections will start to become natural.

Expand your comfort zone. Look for opportunities to meet new people and enjoy new experiences. Successful networking, whether for business or pleasure, requires an expansion of your current world. Go at your own pace, but be sure to keep moving!

Mind your manners. Be courteous and helpful when interacting with people. Forming friendships is an integral part of successful networking. Offer to lend a hand freely and be sure to express sincere gratitude for help that you are given.

Find a mentor. If you know someone who is confident and always seems to be "in the know" about effective business and social communications, ask for his advice. He very well may have some tips to offer, and at the very least he will be flattered that you asked.

Be a mentor. As your networking skills improve, share the wealth with others. If you notice someone who seems self-conscious about forming a connection, take the first step. Remember, not so long ago, that shy, uncertain person was you!

Quick Tips:

Smile! Everyone prefers to be around happy, upbeat people.
Be a friend first. Offering help is often easier than asking for help. Do your best to help others when you can.

Be genuine. People can spot insincerity a mile away--be sure to convey a feeling of authenticity in both your personal and professional networking interactions.

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