One in four professionals don’t bother to network, despite nearly 80% deeming it crucial for career success. The idea of initiating conversations with strangers and navigating small talk can feel daunting and exhausting.

However, a study has found that people who actively work on their networks are up to 72% more likely to be promoted or succeed in business.

Be mindful of body language
It only takes seven seconds for people to form a first impression of you. Show genuine interest in your conversation partner by avoiding closed body language like folded arms, hiding your hands, or looking away mid-conversation.

Additionally, don’t underestimate the power of a handshake. Even brief human touch triggers the release of oxytocin, also called the ‘bonding hormone’, which promotes trust and mutual respect. A firm handshake with eye contact is key to indicating your readiness to connect.

Ask thought leadership questions
Engage your conversation partner by asking thought-provoking questions to demonstrate professionalism. Instead of closed-ended questions, try asking: "Have you noticed any recent changes in the industry?", "Do you have anything exciting coming up in the future?" or "What's the biggest challenge in your line of work?” This not only showcases your knowledge but also encourages a deeper, more meaningful conversation, setting you apart as a thoughtful and passionate professional.

Spruce up your LinkedIn profile
With over 65 million influential figures on LinkedIn, leveraging the platform to connect with highly-regarded people in your industry is a savvy move. Make sure your LinkedIn profile is up-to-date and polished so when you make new connections through networking, your profile clearly reflects your goals, professional achievements, and areas of expertise. This will help reinforce a strong, positive impression.

Ditch the sales pitch and craft your elevator pitch
Networking isn’t about making a hard sell, it’s about building lasting relationships. Remember, instead of telling people what you do, tell them why you do it. Direct pitching can lead to meaningless connections that are a one-way street. Instead, have your 60-second elevator pitch ready and practice it privately, or with a friend before networking events. A brief yet impactful introduction could spark conversations about how you can contribute.

Don’t focus on quantity over quality
Avoid the ‘spaghetti against the wall’ approach of randomly connecting with people and praying that something would stick. Instead, be strategic and focus on building a network that aligns with your career goals and ambitions. Invest your time on people who can offer valuable insights, mentorship, or opportunities relevant to your professional aspirations, to effectively bring your career to the next level.

Don’t put people on pedestals
Feelings of inadequacy might overwhelm you when you enter a space where high reputation, seasoned professionals gather. It's important to keep your chin up and don't assume yourself to be inferior to others. Remember, no one is 'too good' for you to engage with at a networking event, it's all about being proactive and prepared.

Don’t forget to follow up
You will most likely return from a networking event with a stack of business cards. Don’t simply stash them away, the first 24 hours are crucial for reaching out to keep the conversation going. Express gratitude, recap your conversations, and propose next steps - are there opportunities discussed at the event to follow up or areas where you could offer help based on their needs or interests?

Don’t only speak to people you know
A study found that over half of attendees chose to spend time with people they already knew, despite 95% of them expressing a desire to meet new contacts. While it’s natural to gravitate towards those we are familiar and comfortable with, this inadvertently closes doors to new opportunities and innovative ideas. Speaking with people from varied backgrounds will broaden our perspectives during networking.