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The Art of the Follow-Up

Friday, November 15, 2019
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Some people would opt for a root canal over a networking event. A free-floating happy hour would propel them into free-floating anxiety. On the other end of the spectrum are enthusiasts who proclaim they are fabulous networkers because they can talk to anyone about anything.

Both sides of the aisle are often misguided about the true meaning of networking. Breaking news! Enjoying spearing cheese in a roomful of strangers does not translate into being a networking aficionado. While schmoozing drains some and energizes others, small talk does not correlate with networking prowess.

Real networking is the art of building meaningful relationships for shared positive outcomes. Whether you’ve made a single connection or collected a slew of business cards, it’s what happens after the initial encounter that determines success. You made a smashing first impression? You can charm the most stalwart curmudgeon? That amounts to nothing without quality follow-up. If you’re not following up, you’re not networking.

Let’s dispel some myths.

Myth #1: A poor memory hinders your networking ability.
A strong memory is not a prerequisite for quality networking. This is not about memorizing. Instead, create systems to support your efforts. After an encounter worthy of next steps, immediately jot down pertinent information. If you scored a business card, write your notes, such as next steps or name pronunciation, onto the front of it.

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Myth # 2: It’s efficient to send a general follow up to everyone you meet at a conference.
A generic email to a bcc’d list of recent encounters is a lazy imitation of real follow-up. Vague language masking as a personal note is easy to spot. You risk being dismissed as phony or having your email sent into the spam folder. Focusing on a few quality contacts with personalized messages can yield better results than attempting to keep track of dozens.

Myth #3: “They’ll contact me if they’re interested! Following up seems needy, pushy, desperate . . .”
This is a surefire way to lose valuable contacts. It’s in the execution. Have you been the recipient of follow-up that rubbed you the wrong way? Reflect on why the message had that impact. Was it aggressive, pleading, or demanding? Thoughtful, concise follow-up conveys itself as sincere and respectful.

Top-Notch Tips

Research has revealed that the human brain aims to discard information to maintain efficiency. Do nothing and your efforts go down the drain. Tips are in order.

  • Focus. Give others your full attention. Rather than scanning the room for that evasive ”someone else,” focus on the person in front of you. Put a concerted effort into learning names. Practice name recall methods such as repeating it back during the conversation, making associations, and maintaining eye contact. Deep listening also helps assess what matters most to others and what you can offer of value.
  • Timing. Memories and inspiration fade fast. According to the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve, we forget most new information within a few days. Touch base while you’re still remembered. Mondays are the days your outreach is most likely to be ignored or deleted, though, because inboxes overflow and stress permeates from the week’s demands. If you made a connection over the weekend, consider waiting to reach out until Tuesday.
  • Personalize. Craft a note for your new contact that cites a discussed topic. Quality follow up requires personalized language and tailored content. Ask about the big project or how coaching Jake’s soccer team went. Providing a point of reference to your initial interaction reminds them of your conversation while showing you were paying attention.
  • Be useful. Send your new acquaintance a relevant link, reference, or contact. Positioning yourself as helpful is more compelling than listing all your spectacular qualities.
  • Stand out. Consider a handwritten note. While not for run-of-the-mill correspondence, notecards pack a punch when you want to stand out. Keep stamps handy. Writing a card takes no more time than emailing and is uniquely memorable.
  • Be resilient. Lack of response doesn’t connote lack of interest. People are stressed and overwhelmed. Outreach can wind up lost in space. When you don’t get a chipper reply within a few days, resist this rabbit hole of My follow-up was stupid! He can’t stand me! She never wants to see me again! It’s more likely that they never read it, read it and got distracted, or could swear they did reply. They could be dealing with personal matters or a massive deadline. Building connections takes time.

Be authentic in your outreach. Let the real you shine through. Be kind to yourself amid inevitable missteps. All’s well that ends well.

Editor's Note: Adapted from Networking for People Who Hate Networking, 2nd Edition

About the Author

Devora Zack is CEO of Only Connect Consulting and the bestselling author of Networking for People Who Hate Networking, 2nd Edition, Managing for People Who Hate Managing, and Singletasking. Her books are translated into more than 45 language editions.

2 Comments
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Thank you for this! I found this helpful. I am also very interested in checking out your books as they sound right up my alley as I work to develop myself professionally.
Josh, Pleased you found this helpful. Yes, you'll find loads more tips (and self assessments) in all my books on the topics of Networking, Singletasking, and Managing. Enjoy! Devora
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