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How to Use Networking to Enhance Your Career  

By David Barrett, Solutions Network  
To “enhance”. The dictionary suggests improve, augment, increase, boost, develop, enrich, heighten. Wow, I would take any one of those synonyms for my career! 
Networking is truly a great way to enhance your career. Networking gives us opportunities to gain new relationships and new connections that we can possibly leverage going forward—both personally and professionally. When I talk to large audiences about networking I suggest that the most exciting part of this experience is that quite possibly the next person that walks in the door could change your life—forever. One person, one conversation, one chance meeting could introduce you to opportunities that you never knew existed. That new person could be your next employer, employee, customer or friend. To me that makes the art of networking well worth looking into.
Networking is not easy for most people as it often takes us out of our comfort zone. Networking can be very uncomfortable and we might even see it as risky. But the truth is that the person on the other side most likely feels the same way: awkward, uncomfortable but nonetheless eager to meet someone new as well. 
I want to stress right now that networking is not just about connecting with people but it also involves managing those connections, working with them over the coming weeks, months and even years. Networking is the “act” of meeting new people but the whole “play” needs to extend well beyond that first encounter. The great opportunities in our lives may not pop immediately but as we get to know new people we may find that the doors are opened a little further down the road.
Networking is really a science. It does not just happen and to be successful at it we need to plan it, manage it and work it. When we consider the science of networking there are two important areas of concern: the environment and the tools. 
The environment where we try to network is extremely important. As an example, conferences represent perfect opportunities to network with people. We are all there for a common reason or with a common interest. This is the perfect environment to connect with someone new. The ice has already been broken for us. Obviously our workplace is also a great place to meet new people if we work for a large company. Bars are lousy for various reasons. The gym can be great! 
Once we find ourselves in the right environment we now need a few good tools to use. The most important tool is your opening line. Understand that the objective is to find a common thread and/or to create enough interest to carry on a conversation with someone for more than just a minute or two. Again, a conference is a great place to practice. What session did you attend last? What session are you thinking of attending next? How did you like the keynote speaker? Have you been to this conference before? Everything is built around the conference. It is the common thread. At work the opening line will obviously relate to the line of business you are in and possibly common projects that you been working on.
Another important tool to have in your arsenal is what I call the 20 second elevator speech. Who are you? What do you do for a living? What is your connection to…?  All in 20 seconds. For many people this is just enough. If they want more they will ask. The risk here is that when asked a simple question we often go on and on. With respect to all of my readers, let me tell you that business analysts are very guilty of complicating the answer to the very simple question…what do you do for a living? But that is for another article. 
There are many other ways to make networking fun and easy. 
I mentioned at the beginning of this article that it is just as important to manage your new relationships as it is to create them. Don’t forget to grab a business card, write down their name, suggest a coffee tomorrow in the trade show area. You need to make a concerted effort to take this new relationship one more step forward.
Networking is used to enhance our careers: gaining new people, new opportunities, new information we didn’t have yesterday. But on a whole other level, forget about your career. It’s just nice to meet new people.