Want to build a solid network or improve your networking skills? Then, get a conversation going. Most people think networking means knowing people who can help them in their careers. They work a networking event like it’s an elevator pitch; introduce yourself to someone, tell them what you do, hand them a card, and listen while they do the same. It might be fast and painless, but it doesn’t build a connection. Successful networking involves building and maintaining relationships with all types of people. And instead of asking what your network can do for you, successful workers ask themselves what value they can bring to those in their network. People who are part of a strong network have done the hard work by building relationships with their colleagues, one conversation at a time.

Instead of a quick meeting and handshake, try having a conversation with someone new. Be genuinely curious and interested in their work and career. You may find you have something in common and it could be the start of a great connection. Consider these questions to help you get the conversation started (from Jill Scheifelbein’s book “Dynamic Communication”):

Business-oriented questions:
-How did you get started in the industry?
-Why do you love what you do?
-How do you spend your time?
-What’s your favorite type of client to work with?
-What’s your favorite type of problem to solve?
-How do you celebrate successes?

Digging deeper (and as you get to know someone a little better):
-When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
-What is your favorite holiday tradition that you celebrate with friends, family or your employees?
-What is something you are most looking forward to doing with your business (or with your family) in the next year?
-What do you feel is the secret to your success?

Use these questions to help get a conversation started and be sure to listen to the answers. Successful networking starts by building relationships with people who may be able to help you in your career somewhere down the line because they know you, like you, and trust you. As importantly, building your network also means that you will help them and for the same reasons.

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