Networking guru: Be prepared, be present, follow up

At largest women's business event of year, advice on how to mingle

Leave it to a networking event to teach people how to … network.

At least, that was the message from Joanne Spears, senior vice president, financial planning, Newport Capital Group — and one of dozens of speakers and panelists last week at the New Jersey Business & Industry Association‘s 9th annual New Jersey Women Business Leaders Forum in Newark.

Spears shared how she makes the most out of her networking opportunities, saying there are three main principles she follows: being prepared, being present and following up.

“First, you need to determine which events will be most effective for your goals,” she said.

It’s not all about business, Spears said.

“When I first started networking, I would only go to work events, but, over the past few years, I’ve found that social networking can be equally important,” she said.

It’s not all about the conversation, either.

Spears spoke of ways to stay present, such as eye contact and listening to understand as opposed to listening to respond.

“People might not remember what you said or what you did, but they most certainly are going to remember how you made them feel,” she said.

NJBIA CEO Michele Siekerka agreed.

She said the two-day event, which attracted approximately 500 people, was all about “reaching in, reaching up and unleashing the inner leader in each of us,” she said.

The energy during the largest statewide conference of its kind not only featured TED-style talks and breakout sessions featuring more than 50 speakers, but plenty of networking time.

And plenty of life lessons.

Other common threads heard throughout the day during the panel discussions were:

  • Building trust;
  • Power comes from within;
  • Be authentic;
  • Be mindful and purposeful;
  • Set boundaries;
  • Bring your energy;
  • Stay focused;
  • Share something about yourself;
  • Use your relationships to make things happen;
  • Look for open doors;
  • Be open to new opportunities;
  • Get empowered.

More than anything, Spears said, make it about the here and now. Simply put, don’t be looking for your next conversation before the current one ends.

“You want to make people feel important, so focus your attention on them when you are speaking to them,” she said.