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The seven rules of engagement: Effective networking in the digital age

In our digitally connected world, it’s more important than ever to make the most of face-to-face opportunities.

The seven rules of engagement: Effective networking in the digital age

“Business is all about relationships,” says social ecologist and director of communications firm Talking Sticks, Melanie Greblo. “Building strong rapport is near impossible online or over the phone – so if you have the chance to meet someone face-to-face, tell a short story that leaves an impression.”

Effective networking, according to communications specialist Christine Heard, means understanding that every conversation is an opportunity. As a former journalist, Heard spent years honing her capacity to understand quickly what new contacts have to offer by encouraging them to open up and share their insights, observations and expertise.

“Face-to-face networking gets us seen,” Heard says. “It hones our active listening and conversation skills and allows us to make personal, memorable connections with new acquaintances. In other words, we become worth remembering.”

But just listening isn’t enough, it’s also important, Heard says, to use information each contact shares to understand how they “fit in” to your existing network.

“Face-to-face networking gets us seen, it hones our active listening and conversation skills and allows us to make personal, memorable connections with new acquaintances.”

– Christine Heard

Here are seven tips from Heard and Greblo to help make the most of face-to-face opportunities:


Smiling makes you appear competent, trustworthy and approachable, research by Pennsylvania State University and New York University shows. And as Heard points out, it’s simple and free.

Keep an open mind

Pick events that you have a genuine interest in attending and work on the assumption that unexpected opportunities can occur at any time. “People you think you’re unlikely ever to work with may end up being a valuable client or contact,” Heard says.

Be yourself

If you try to be someone you’re not, you will come across as fake and simply repel people, Greblo says. “Be the person who shows up, is present in the room, attentive in conversation, participatory in activities, engaged with people – who wouldn’t want to do business with you?”

Get to the point

Before you attend an event, make sure you set an objective and use it to drive home conversations. “Don’t be afraid to get to the point if you want to connect or share with someone,” says Greblo, who also points out that many people appreciate honesty and transparency in business.

Make personal and business connections

Heard says that the best way to strike up a conversation is often through stories of personal experiences, holidays, and family or hobbies, because these help others to see your personal side. Opening with a non-business anecdote helps to build trust and leaves a lasting impression.

Follow through and follow up

Always follow up on the same day, next day, or even on the way back to the office through professional networking sites. This shows your interest in the conversation was genuine and helps build your credibility because, as Heard points out, “networking only works if it’s followed up”.

Ask questions

Asking well-crafted questions at events gives you the chance to introduce yourself to the entire audience, Heard says, and it demonstrates you understand the topic at hand. “I make it a point to ask at least one question during every Q&A session,” she says. “It gets me noticed, the organisers appreciate my level of engagement, and it gives others something to chat about afterwards.”

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