I networked with 1,200 people last year, and made it count

Here’s what nobody can believe: During the 88 networking events I attended, supported, or hosted in 2016, I was able to network with more than 1,200 individuals. Yes, I had real conversations with everyone, and was meeting many of them for the first time.

“How do you manage all of this networking?” almost all of my friends ask me. “That sounds crazy!”

The truth is it doesn’t feel that crazy because I have found a way to rethink networking. Now, not only do I have stronger relationships with many different people, but I have also learned how to manage my energy and commitments. I’m so much more at ease and excited when I meet the next person.

How did I do this? The key was to change the way I perceived professional networking. Networking is commonly thought of as a strategic thing you do to build your network of supporters. I was told to do it because you want to impress others so that they can help you with jobs, advice, and opportunities.

This is all backwards. Yes, you do want to build a network, but what is the point if you are curating a list of people who don’t know the real you or who you don’t truly know? At the end of the day, networking is getting to know another person and building a relationship, and we must never forget that.

The number one rule for building good relationship is to be authentic, intentional, and empathetic. Too many people stress out about meeting the right people with the right title and acting a certain way. They completely miss the opportunity to meet great people right in front of them. When you present your true self, you have a higher chance of meeting someone who wants to support you and be part of your journey.

I’ve written about getting the most out of each networking event. But how do you forge the best relationships with the people you meet? These five tips will help you prepare yourself for success and authentic relationship building.

1. Stop treating people differently based on their titles. Don’t change your demeanor depending on who you meet. Too many professionals are focused on impressing those with big titles and pay little attention to those who have less fancy titles. Focus on getting to know each individual for who he or she is. Just be yourself and smile.

2. Listen more, ask more, be curious, and be considerate. Imagine you are going on a date and the other person does all the talking. I doubt you’d want to get together with this person again. The same goes for business relationships. Yes, you want to talk about the award you just won and how great your company is, but get to know the person you are speaking to first. When you have an empathetic and curious mindset, you can learn more about the individual, but also permit a relationship to grow.

3. Be fully present, and let that person know you are listening. Giving someone undivided attention is powerful. Thanks to technology, so many of us are easily distracted by our buzzing phones and text message alerts. Stop checking your phone when you are talking to someone. Even if you meet a lot of people back to back, if you are fully present for each conversation, you are more likely to remember them, make a positive impression, and be less stressed.

4. Know your energy bandwidth, and rest when you need to. No matter how much I love being with people, I know that I am not my best when I am exhausted. That is why I constantly review my calendar to allocate enough time to rest, so I can be excited and energized when I go to meet people. If I have a lot of upcoming meetings, I spend the prior weekend away from crowds to balance out my energy. If I know that I am on the road, I identify coffee shops and walking routes ahead of time where I can go take a break if I get tired. I’ve also learned to say no to certain opportunities if I had a crazy week.

5.Make a plan to stay in touch or follow up. Yes, you had a great conversation with someone, and you connected immediately. However, if you leave with no actionable steps or no actions taken, then that relationship will most likely not evolve. This is when technology can be your friend. Once you’ve determine whether you’d like to be in touch, take advantage of social media, email, and other tools. If you’ve promised to share something, tell them when you plan to follow up.

Overall, you will see the greatest impact when you are intentional about your presence, approach, and relationship building. Take a step back and reflect on who your closest friends are—those who you trust, respect, and remain close with—and how you built those relationships. Then take these five steps to deepen your new friendships and professional relationships. I promise you that you will never look at networking the same way.

Have any other suggestions or thoughts? Let Monica know via Twitter at @monicahkang.

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