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Unlocking the Art of Genuine Networking: Tips for Making Authentic Connections in the Digital Age

Creating space for others is the essence of networking.” Isn’t that a beautiful perspective on a concept that so many of us genuinely fear?


But why is that, and what can we do to feel more comfortable making genuine connections? In a world driven by digital connectivity, networking has become an important art. I personally enjoy connecting with people and getting to know their stories. That’s why I would like to delve deeper into this topic, share personal experiences, essential strategies and mindful approaches to create authentic connections — online and offline.


Blue picture with sketch of a yellow computer

Creating Genuine In-Person Connections


A good network provides a supportive ecosystem that fosters personal and professional growth and opens up a variety of opportunities throughout your career. A broad network can give you new perspectives, open up new opportunities and provide visibility and credibility.


To write this article, I did some research on networking and what other people think is essential to build genuine connections. I picked three arguments that really resonated with me:

  • Networking is not about you. It’s about the person you are talking to. Show genuine interest and let people tell you about themselves.

  • Learn to ask good questions. And here we come back to the statement made at the beginning. Make room for other people and be the host of the conversation. Ask them interesting questions. Move away from the question “What do you do?”, “What is your educational background?”, “How long have you worked there?” I am so guilty of asking these questions. So let’s commit to asking more interesting questions.

  • Be a good listener. This not only demonstrates genuine interest, but it also allows you to understand others’ needs and tailor your interactions accordingly.



Strategies for Effective Offline Networking


Here are some strategies you can use to increase your effectiveness in face-to-face networking:

  • Attend Industry Events: Actively participate in conferences, seminars, workshops, and trade shows related to your field. These events provide excellent opportunities to meet professionals, learn about industry trends, and forge connections. Read my article about How to Rock an Event Alone.

  • Join a Networking Group or Professional Association: Become a member of relevant professional organizations in your industry.

  • Local Meetup Groups: It doesn’t necessarily have to be something related to your job, perhaps it’s a group focused on one of your hobbies or a skill or language you’d like to improve. These meetups often attract professionals from various backgrounds and offer a diverse pool of potential contacts. My running group is a good example of this. We meet to run, but in doing so I have met so many people from all walks of life.

  • Volunteer at Events: Engage in events or initiatives aligned with your interests, allowing you to meet individuals who share similar values.

  • Join Your Universities’ Alumni Network: This is an opportunity to tap into a community that often spans various industries and career stages. If it doesn’t exist, why not starting your own? That’s what I did. :)

  • Host Your Own Events: Take the initiative to organize small gatherings, workshops, or networking events. This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while.

We are just a story in everybody’s head. What story are you leaving behind?” — Podcast The Expansive

How To Maintain Connections


After establishing a connection at an event, be sure to exchange business cards, connect on LinkedIn, or exchange contact information. I suggest following up with someone after an event. Reach out with a genuine thank-you, reference the conversation or offer a personal touch, such as extending holiday wishes. Make it personal. If possible remain in touch afterwards, even if it’s just on LinkedIn.


A special advice for women: Actively introduce the women in your network to other people, bring them into conversations, and actively contribute to creating opportunities. Fostering a culture of inclusion, especially in informal networks, is crucial. Research shows that a major barrier for female executives’ progression to top management roles is their limited access to these informal networks (Harvard Business Review/Forbes). Let’s collectively work towards ensuring that everyone has a seat at the table.


Online Networking


Depending on your perspective, online networking can either increase your discomfort or offer a more accessible alternative, eliminating the need for in-person conversations. The pandemic has shown us the importance of online networking and that a virtual connection could transition into face-to-face interaction.


During the pandemic, I regularly attended virtual events. If a speaker or panelist really stood out to me, I would send them a message on LinkedIn. To emphasize my honest outreach, I always referred to my key takeaways from their presentation/talk. One of my close friends first contacted me on LinkedIn, we met for coffee, and now I’m lucky enough to call her a good friend. Recently, someone got in touch with me after reading my article about running and we met for a virtual coffee.


Now that things have returned to normal, I continue to reach out to people on LinkedIn if they catch my attention. I did a quick survey on LinkedIn, and 70% of the participants said that they actively approach people on LinkedIn, even if they have never met. Two things struck me: Men seem to feel more comfortable doing this, and in North America this approach seems to be more widespread than among my European contacts. Perhaps two insights that are worth another article?



 

My main realization from my research on networking is that I need to focus more on listening and be more creative with my questions. I will try to think about it before an event and I might ask different questions depending on the context. What is your key takeaway?

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