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Have you ever attended a networking event where it felt like the sole objective was to see how many business cards could be passed out among the attendees? It’s truly like a game where the winner walks away with what? You guessed it, a handful of business cards, but no meaningful connections.

Effective networking is about making connections of substance. It’s about listening more than you talk and taking a genuine interest in learning about the people you engage with. This is contrary to what we witness in most networking environments where the intent is to meet new people in hopes of identifying ways that they can help you. An effective networker knows it’s the other way around.

True connections take place when there’s an equal exchange of knowledge, resources and time between people. It’s not about what you can do for me, it’s about how can we help each other advance in our endeavors?

As business owners, making connections is a key component of growing your business. You want your business to be on the appropriate radar screens, so when someone is in the market for your product or service, your company is top of mind. However, you can easily leave a poor first impression with people by exercising a more abrasive and self-centered approach.

Here are three simple tips to keep in mind as you strive to make valuable connections:

  1. Ask questions that aren’t generic – It’s easy to detect when someone is insincere and it often leads to a very uncomfortable experience for all parties involved. When you meet someone for the first time, ask questions that have nothing to do with their professional life. For example, ask about their hobbies or their favorite book or television show. While it may surprise them at first, because it’s out of the ordinary, you’ll quickly see their defensive wall crumble and their level of comfort increase.
  2. Do your research – This is especially important when you’re attending a trade show and will interact with prospective clients. Prior to the event, you should compile a targeted list of prospective clients you would like to engage with at the trade show. You should then take that list and research every single company to learn more about their business, the challenges they’re experiencing, industry trends and their goals and objectives for the current year. Equipped with all of that information, you can confidently communicate the value that your company can offer to each prospective client.
  3. Be intentional about listening for the sake of learning – Listening is a lost art form. Most people listen with the intent of replying versus understanding. And with all the distractions around us, it’s easy to think you’re listening when you’re really not. To really listen to someone you have to give them your undivided attention. You have to be fully present in the moment and void of any distractions (i.e. your smartphone). If you can master this, you can extract so much information from a single conversation. People want to be heard, you set yourself apart from others when you consistently show them that you’re eager to listen.