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Welcome to Futureforth

We are a social media strategy, digital marketing consultancy in Nashville. Our goal is to teach you inbound marketing, social media best practices, and everything you need to succeed with content marketing including your blog, email newsletter, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and other favorite social networking platforms. 

Don't have the time to produce content? We can help with that too. 

The Futureforth Blog

Helpful tips and articles about social media strategy, content marketing, and business networking. 

Improve Communication with a Reboot

Dave Delaney

Business improv for tech companies

Picture a six-year-old boy standing on a stage in front of an audience. The school production is of Little Red Riding Hood. The little boy stands erect, his arms spread out on each side, facing stage left and stage right. He's wearing Buster Brown shoes, brown corduroy slacks, and a forest green colored turtleneck shirt.

At an earlier date, the boy was to play the woodsman, who would rescue Little Red Riding Hood in her moment of wolf-related terror. He had trouble paying attention in class and was considered the class clown. One too many antics led to his demotion from playing the courageous hero to becoming a background actor as a boring, old tree.

His direction was simple. The replacement woodsman would act as he was chopping the tree (played by the boy), when suddenly he would hear Little Red Riding Hood's screams for help. He would take one final swing of his axe into the tree, and run off stage to her rescue. The tree, would simple tilt to the left as if slightly cut from the axe. The lights would go to black and the scene would end. That was the only action the boy would have in the play.

The proud parents in the audience were enjoying the children in the performance that evening. Everything was going as planned until the scene with the tree and the woodsman. When the woodsman heard Red's cries for help, he swung his axe one final time, only something unexpected happened. The tree tilted forward instead of to its side. The boy, standing erect, fell forward to land flat on his chest in the center of the stage. He probably yelled, "Timber!" in his mind as he slammed down onto the stage. The audience roared together in a moment of absolute hysterical laughter. The only face in the audience not laughing was the angry teacher, who directed the performance. Her punishment of the class clown had backfired. The boy's improvised fallen tree scene stole the show.

That boy was me.

I have always had a love for comedy and performance. This is why I bring humor into my presentations and workshops. I've seen presentations on similar topics that I speak on which lacked humor and ended up being dry and dull. I always aim to get the audience laughing as I present, so we all have fun together.

Improving with Improv

Back when I lived in Toronto, I studied and graduated from The Second City's improv training program. If you're not familiar with improv, picture the TV show, "Whose Line Is It Anyway?"

I went on to perform improv in Canada, England, Scotland, and Ireland. In fact, when I lived in Galway, Ireland, I founded an improv troupe. We performed every Thursday night at a local wine bar, and I also provided corporate improv training.

When Hubspot hired me to speak at their Inbound Conference a couple of years ago, I decided to create a new presentation entitled, "Improve with Improv". I've included the twelve-minute video below for your viewing pleasure. I wanted to share how I apply some of the key lessons from improv to my everyday life, so that others can too.

After the Hubspot event, I was craving to perform improv again. So, I auditioned to join the Nashville Improv Company. To my happy surprise (and Heather's shock), I was accepted as a cast member! For the last year, I've been performing improv every month or so. It's been wonderful to tap back into a deep passion of mine.

My consultancy, Futureforth, is all about helping others learn how to use digital marketing for their businesses. What I didn't really consider until recently was the fact that what I do is all about communication. In fact, I did the famous Strengths Finder personality assessment and discovered my top strength is - communication (followed by consistency, woo, activator and harmony).

Being a solopreneur means working alone most days - not by choice, it's just how it is. My favorite moments are spent with my clients and audiences in-person. This got me thinking about how I could offer something new to help my clients improve their communication.

Light bulb moment! IMPROV.

There are countless articles about how improv training can help companies improve their communication, employee morale and retention, culture, listening and presentation skills, plus… it's a heck of a lot of fun to spend half a day (or a full day) away from your computer and playing with your colleagues.

"Whether you're selling a product, an idea or yourself, learning to listen, connect and play like an improviser can make all the difference." - Inc Magazine.

"If you want to get ahead, work on your improv skills." - Wharton College School of Management.

"Improvisation – and the improv toolkit – offers great grounding for leaders challenged to thrive in a business climate that demands agility, resilience, quick thinking, and ease with ambiguity. Counterintuitive as it might seem, business is often an act of improvisation, not planning. So we say “lights up” on the era of the leader as an improviser." - Harvard Business Review.

If you want to improve your business, I have no doubt that improv will help. I want to prove this to you by coming to your office and providing your team with a fun-filled morning or afternoon of improv exercises. 

I'm calling this my Communication Reboot. Let's talk about how I can help you use improv to improve your business today. Hit contact and let's chat.

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How to Become an Expert at Public Speaking

Dave Delaney

Public Speaking Tips.jpg

Do you have glossophobia? Are you familiar with the term? Glossophobia is the anxiety of public speaking and approximately 75 percent of people have this fear. Jerry Seinfeld jokes that at a funeral, most people would rather be lying in a casket than delivering a eulogy. 

All jokes aside though, we still need to give presentations during our lifetime. Perhaps you have one scheduled with your senior team soon. If so, this article is for you. I am also writing this for those of you who wish to get better at public speaking, and to those who would even like to become professional speakers. 

I reached out to some of my favorite speakers to ask them for their recommendations to help you get better at public speaking. To make your presentations amazing, you need to research the topics and practice frequently, even rehearse in front of your friends and colleagues before taking it to the board of directors. Keynote speaker, Bryan Eisenberg from Buyer Legends says, “Identify how you want your management to feel and what you want them to do before you even think about presenting.” 

Stay cool

Tamsen Webster, Executive Director of TEDx Cambridge reminds us to stay cool.

 “Admit your nerves, but don't apologize for them. Admitting them relieves the pressure from you — you don't have to add the stress of trying not to be nervous to the stress of being nervous," Webster said. "It also puts the audience in the role of encouragement and support.” 

From novice to experienced speakers, you want to create a stellar presentation

Thom Singer from NYP Speakers shares his advice: “Have a clear opening and close. Think about how you will start and how you will end. Then make the middle match.” This will make for an enjoyable presentation that your audience will happily follow along with. 

Take it to the next level

If you get a taste for speaking and want to do it more, it’s time to take it to the next level. Join your local Rotary Club or National Speaking Association Chapter to practice and improve your art.

Start local

Judson Laipply, President of Evolution of Dance recommends, “Start locally, seek out every local group that has weekly or monthly meetings and offer to speak. Actually speaking is the best way to get more opportunities.”

The more you speak, the more you speak!

Rob Cottingham from Social Signal suggests, “Look for worthy causes and events whose mandate dovetails with the subjects you speak about, and volunteer. And don't just think keynotes: in fact, at first, don't think about keynotes at all. Instead, look for panels, breakout sessions and conference tracks. Find the smaller venues where you can over deliver on your audience's expectations.” This is truly powerful advice that will help you advance your speaking career.

I am lucky to belong to an amazing network of professional speakers. Many of them contributed the tips I’ve included in this article. I will leave you with one of my favorites from Attention Expert, Neen James, “Remember it’s a conversation, not a presentation — it's not about you, it's about standing in service of your audience.” 

Are you still not sure about public speaking? There is a remedy for glossophobia — speak more. The more you practice the better you become. 

This article originally appeared in The Tennessean Newspaper.

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Saving Twitter

Dave Delaney

If you missed the news, Twitter is reported to be testing a $99 subscription service. It’s not very pretty.

I’ve been an active Twitter user for over ten years. I’m even verified which makes me special (I joke). What got me into Twitter in the first place was the community. The community has dropped off considerably over the last several years. 

Anyone who follows the technology space knows that Twitter has had many ups and downs trying to find itself since its launch in 2006. Back then our biggest issue with Twitter was its ability to stay up. I immediately envision kittens with screwdrivers thinking about all of the down time. 

From Microblogging to Link Promoting

I liked the term “micro-blogging” because that defined what Twitter was. A place for people to share what’s on their minds - or what they were doing (or eating). It was more about connection, community, and writing than pushing links. 

And yes, I do this too. I’m guilty as well. I constantly share links to interesting articles and promote my own content. I do this more than I engage because the engagement has dropped off considerably since the good ole days. And now we are all fighting to be heard through the noise. I'm such a sellout, right? 

Every so often, I will ask a question on Twitter. I usually get one or two replies. When I ask the same question on my Facebook profile, I get many more replies. I’m in denial about this because I *want* Twitter to succeed. But without the engagement and with its wonky algorithm, its value as a social network has deeply diminished to me.

I still think there is value in connecting with specific people by mentioning them or writing directly to them. But the group chatter is more like the sound of a group of crickets now.

Twitter Link-Free Fridays

Here’s an idea. What if Twitter removed the ability to share links on Fridays? I bet this would substantially increase user engagement. Instead of having the ability to include a link, Twitter could prompt you to ask a question or share what you are doing. 

Or, as a test, Twitter could add an option to turn off tweets with links. A simple switch to remove any tweet with a link. They could then see how many people actually use it to gauge user’s interest. Not a bad idea!

Ah yes… users. Twitter sucks at interacting with their own users. This is something that has always irked me. Why not reach out and ask us?!

I would love to see Twitter become the social networking water cooler once again. The place to pop in and out of to send some messages and to share what’s on our minds. Twitter could return to the place where we keep in touch and meet new friends.

So the latest news? For $99 a month, Twitter will offer some accounts to promote up to ten tweets a day in addition to running month-long Promoted Account ads to increase followers. Sounds like a cash grab to me. More followers are lovely but I want quality over quantity. I'm over the vanity metrics anyway.

Meh, I would just like to see engagement return to what it was. And yes, I’m putting my own sentimentality ahead of my understanding that Twitter has investors to please. But if all of the tweets become link-bait ads… I’ll probably just return to Facebook for the conversation instead and I bet most people will too. And without users, the investors won't be pleased. 

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Automation: A Good Idea for Online Marketing?

Dave Delaney

Marketing Automation

Automation online can be a wonderful thing. It can help us to speed up processes that otherwise take time. For example, I created an email series using a company called ConvertKit (Affiliate Link).

I wrote 15 emails that walk the reader through a step-by-step process to find a new job or launch a side business. The email series automatically delivers a new message every few days. This method is a wonderful way to automate the process of email marketing campaigns.

A few weeks ago, I experimented with sending automated direct (private) messages to my new Twitter followers using Crowdfire. This has commonly been considered a no-no in the minds of Twitter's original users, but Twitter has changed since 2007 when I began using it. As a marketer, it's my job to test how new tactics perform so I can relay this information to my clients.

I sent a simple automated tweet to each new follower, "Thanks for the follow. What are you working on today? — via @crowdfire."

The last part was automatically affixed to the tweet using the service. I felt it helped to relay that the message was automatically generated. To my surprise, I began to get replies.

I ended up having a brief chat with several people who replied to my question. I even got into a debate in a Twitter #mediachat about using automated direct messages. I have always disliked them in the past but I felt it was worth testing for myself.

I don't always have time to review each new follower, so I had hoped this would work to speed up those connections and get to know them a little faster.  

My ultimate decision was to disable the service. Not enough people responded and I feared annoying others who received my message.

I sometimes see people trying to automate high-priced services via email automation. This makes me cringe because it takes time to build a relationship and earn trust to do business together.

In the case of my free email series, my intention is to help people find jobs. And it's working. I've already heard from some of them directly. And no, I did not reply with automated messages. Each message was original and sent straight from little ol' me.

It's important to understand why you want to use automation in your marketing efforts. Always put yourself in the recipient's shoes to consider whether this process is right for them. Test different methods to see what works best for you.

This article originally appeared in The Tennessean Newspaper. 

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Secrets to Breaking the Ice

Dave Delaney

10 Must Know Conference Networking Tips. Free download here.

10 Must Know Conference Networking Tips. Free download here.

Networking at conferences is not always easy. Have you ever arrived at a networking event or conference alone? It can be daunting to walk up to someone and introduce yourself. What do you talk about? How can you break the ice?

The first step to meeting new people at a conference or networking event is to understand that you are not alone in being alone. Look around the room and note the other people who are standing by themselves, too. This is your opportunity to ease the tension by introducing yourself.

The badges are your invites

If there is one thing every attendee has in common at a conference, it is that they are wearing a badge. That lanyard is your invitation to approach and introduce yourself. Every person wearing one has likely already experienced something similar to you, like perusing the exhibit hall, eating the lunch buffet or attending a keynote presentation.

Use the person's name from their badge when you introduce yourself. Shake their hand and look them in the eye. Your smile and use of their name will be most welcomed. If they have an unusual name, ask how they pronounce it and then repeat it multiple times to help you remember it and to earn their respect.

Triangulation

Kio Stark, author of "When Strangers Meet," uses the term "triangulation" to define finding a common point of interest to discuss. For example, if you are meeting someone exiting the lecture area, you can ask her what she thought of the keynote speaker. If you are leaving the leaving the lunch buffet, you can ask her what she thought of the salmon.

--- Grab my Ten Must Know Conference Networking Tips ---

Picture a triangle. You are on one point. The person you are speaking with is on the other point. And something you both have shared is the third point. This makes breaking the ice much easier. Look around the room for other ideas on something you can talk about, like a piece of art or a view from the window.

F.O.R.D.

As you speak with someone, consider the ice-breaking acronym F.O.R.D. Each letter represents a different topic you can discuss. F is for family, O is for occupation, R is for relaxation and recreation, and D is for dreams and aspirations.

I don't recommend necessarily asking these questions in order. Instead, begin by asking about their occupation since this is more of a general topic. You may learn that the person moved to a different city because their spouse has a new position there. This gets into the topic of family, where you can ask about children, how long they have been married and where they met their spouse.

You can follow up by asking them what they do for fun in their new city. This will lead the conversation into how the person relaxes or finds recreational activities on the weekends. And finally, you might get into talking about career goals and where they would like to retire to or what their summer travel plans are. I don't know about you, but when I think of travel and retirement, I definitely think of relaxation and recreation.

So the next time you arrive alone at a conference, remember that nobody goes to remain alone. People want to talk with you.

Break the ice, ask the questions, listen carefully to their answers, and remember to ask for a business card if you enjoy the conversation. Don't forget to follow up when you return to the office. Following up is the second most important step in networking after showing up.

For more conference networking tips visit: 10tips.networkingfornicepeople.com.

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Disrupt or Be Disrupted

Dave Delaney

I have been working in social media marketing for more than ten years. I have worked in marketing, promotions and communications for nearly twenty. When I learn new things about this industry, I can’t help but be inspired and excited.

This week, I had the good fortune of being invited as an attendee of a digital marketing conference in Nashville. Sprinklr, a social media management platform, held it’s first conference, Digital Transformation Summit (#unenterprise on Twitter).

95% of CEOs think going digital is critical, but only 25% have a digital strategy.

The lineup of impressive speakers included smart people like Cisco’s John Chambers, Altimeter’s Charlene Li, Twitter’s Chris Moody, and Sprinklr’s Ragy Thomas and Carlos Dominguez. There were also many breakout sessions with speakers from a wide variety of large brands and agencies. I loved the networking too but I'm partial to that.

I learned new things like, ninety-five percent of CEOs think going digital is critical, but only twenty-five percent actually have a digital strategy. That’s shocking to hear but also not a surprise based on my own experiences with many of my clients.

As a business leader, the important thing is to be constantly changing to grow your company. Technology adoption takes time it requires an evolution of both tool capabilities and human processes to be successful.

I learned that we should focus a little less on measuring what we have and instead concentrate on measuring what we need. I was also reminded that while content is king, context should be queen. As marketers we all need to stop and ask ourselves why we are creating a particular piece of content like a blog post or video.

"If you stay in silos and don’t disrupt yourself; you will be Ubered."

Another important takeaway from the summit is to consider how silos in your company can effect employee moral and customer outreach. I heard everything from tips on tearing down the silos to finding ways to at least build windows within those silos to improve communication.

John Chambers from Cisco was probably the most empowering of the speakers I saw. He said, “If you stay in silos and don’t disrupt yourself; you will be ubered.” That was the first time I had heard someone use Uber as a verb. It was a sobering realization for many of the attendees I spoke with after his impressive presentation.

It is essential to consider how your business is disrupting your industry. John Chambers said, “disrupt or be disrupted.” He told the audience that change makes us all uncomfortable, but not changing has much graver consequences. If you won’t make a bet on the future of your company, you have already determined your future.

Let's Chat

Need help with your digital marketing strategy? Let's chat.

This article originally appeared in The Tennessean Newspaper.

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20 Ways to Become a Better Writer

Dave Delaney

20 Ways to Become a Better Writer

In order to build and grow your brand you must create content that people can discover. It is this content that will tell the reader more about you, your products and your services. We write articles, proposals, blog posts, emails, Facebook updates, tweets and more every day. We are all writers. We just need to get better. 

I decided to re-read Ann Handley's wonderful book, "Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content." Whether you are a scribbler or a scribe, a poet or an editor, there is something in Handley's book for all. The following are quotes from her book that will leave you inspired and ready to improve your own writing. 

20 writing tips from Ann Handley's "Everybody Writes".

  1. Write with economy and style and honest empathy for your reader.
  2. If you stripped your branding from all your properties and lined up your words alongside a competitor's, would you recognize yourself? Would you stand out?
  3. Whenever possible, specify geranium instead of flower.
  4. Utility x Inspiration x Empathy = Quality Content.
  5. Writing is a habit, not an art. Set aside time each day when you're freshest.
  6. Put the needs of your audience first.
  7. Every bit of content you create should be to please the customer or prospect — not your boss or client.
  8. Start with empathy. Continue with utility. Improve with analytics. Optimize with love.
  9. The first words of every sentence should make a friendly first impression to encourage the reader to keep going.
  10. The primary idea — the important words — should be placed at the beginning.
  11.  Anything you write should always be aligned with a larger (business or marketing) goal — even an individual blog post.
  12. Reframe the idea to relate it to your readers.
  13. The more personal you are, the more universal you become.
  14. Write to one person.
  15. If you get stuck, think about what's sticking. Do you need more research? More examples? Another point?
  16. Good writing serves the reader, not the writer. It isn't self-indulgent. Good writing anticipates the questions that readers might have as they're reading a piece, and it answers them.
  17. Empathy for the customer experience should be at the root of all of your content.
  18. Start by getting to know your customers.
  19. No one will ever complain that you've made things too simple to understand.
  20. Don't tell me who you are — tell me why you matter to me.

Writing is a wonderful way to share what you know with important people around you. Become a better writer this year by reading Ann Handley's "Everybody Writes." I have already picked up a few new tips to use for my writing; I know you will, too.

And now I am off to the store to pick up some geraniums for my wife.

This article originally appeared in The Tennessean Newspaper

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10 Years on LinkedIn

Dave Delaney

10 years on LinkedIn

Did you know today is the iPhone's tenth birthday? I'm celebrating my own ten-year milestone today too. 10 years on Linkedin! It's not much of a celebration really, it's not like LinkedIn noticed. I have all of my first dates on my calendar to remind me. I will celebrate my first post on Facebook on January 22, and my first tweet on Twitter on February 18th (both were parenting related). Both dates will also be ten-year anniversaries. I wonder if Facebook or Twitter will remember.

My relationship with LinkedIn has been good. I had a wonderful time as a keynote speaker when LinkedIn had the LinkedIn Live Conference in Nashville. I also advised Refresh, a company that was later acquired by LinkedIn. Both are LinkedIn-related milestones I am proud of.

LinkedIn Recommendations and Profile Optimizations

One of my main uses of LinkedIn is to give and receive recommendations. I always ask for one from my speaking and consulting clients. This is how I have accrued nearly eighty recommendations over my ten years on the professional social network.

I believe recommendations are one of the most important parts of a profile because they add social proof. If you want to get more recommendations you should check out my article, What You Need To Know About LinkedIn Recommendations.

I also put together a guide to help you optimize your profile to get the most return from your time spend on LinkedIn. Download your copy of "10 LinkedIn Profile Optimization Tips" here.

How long have you been using LinkedIn? What do you enjoy most about it?

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Tis the Season to Connect!

Dave Delaney

8 Holidays Networking Tips

The holiday season is the best time to get out to local networking events to meet new people and see old friends. Get started by reviewing your inbox (and spam folders) for invites you might have missed. Follow this by checking Facebook facebook.com/events for invites and ideas. RSVP and get out there.

8 Holiday Networking Tips

1. Smiles are contagious. Even if you are nervous, your smile will tell people you are friendly and happy to meet new people.  

2. Be nice. Avoid gossip or trashing talking anyone. Look for ways you can help the people you meet. Maybe you can provide an introduction during the event you are attending.

3. Set goals. Think about why you are attending the event. You aren't just attending for the free h'orderves and cocktails. What do you hope to gain by attending? Who do you wish to meet? What would you like the outcome to be?

4. Avoid too many h'orderves and cocktails. This is pretty obvious, but we all know that guy who misses the memo each year. Should you have one too many take a cab or Uber home. Better yet… don't drive to the event in the first place.  

5. Talk to strangers. Get away from the usual crowd to meet new people. The people standing alone don't wish to be alone. If they wanted to be alone they would have stayed home. Go introduce yourself and ask them what brings them to the event. 

6.  Ask questions and listen. When you ask someone a question, be sure to look them in the eyes as they are answering. Make them feel like they are the only person in the room. Ask a follow-up question like, "How did that make you feel?" or "What happened next?"

7.  Don't be a Las Vegas blackjack dealer with your business cards. Ask for someone's business card after you have talked and a connection has been made. Just because you asked where the bathroom is, is not an opportunity to ask for a card. Save some trees by refraining from handing out your cards, unless you are asked for one. Someone else's card is far more valuable because you have their information to follow-up. Otherwise, you are left hoping they follow-up with you.

8.  Follow up. I wrote a post here recently about the importance of following up. Following up is the second most important part of networking after showing up. The longer you leave it, the less likely you will reconnect with the person. This is a wasted opportunity to help them and build a new relationship.

This article originally appeared in The Tennessean Newspaper.

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Are You Missing The Second Most Important Step In Networking?

Dave Delaney

What is the second most important step in networking?

In my book, New Business Networking, I remind my readers how showing up is the most important part of professional networking. When you don't take the time to attend the event you miss out. You have to brush off the fear and excuses and get out to meet new people. If you aren't meeting new people you aren't networking effectively.

The second most important step in networking is the follow-up. I'm willing to bet there is a pile of business cards on your desk that you have been neglecting since the last event you attended. Am I right?  

In order to get the most return on your time spent networking you must follow up. When I speak with colleagues about this step they often admit they skip it. Here are some ways to improve your follow up.

Follow-up while you are fresh.

After every conference or networking event allocate time to following up. Set fifteen minutes on your calendar per day to email the people you met. Doing so as soon as possible will help the recipient remember you. The longer you leave it, the less fresh you are in their minds.

Jar their memory.

Attendees at my networking workshops know they must take notes on business cards to help them remember how they should follow-up. When they write that email, they refer back to the note, so they can jar the recipient's memory on what they talked about. For example, perhaps they spoke about a recent hockey game. The sender can include a link to a related story or video from YouTube. This will help the recipient remember them.

Include a call to action.

When you follow-up think of a call to action. What do you want the recipient to do after your email? I like to write a summary blog post about my experiences at a conference. I include the link to the blog post in my follow-up. Perhaps you took photos at the event. You could upload the images to your Facebook page and send a link to the album. This will get the recipient one step closer to liking your page or visiting your blog. Another call to action is an invitation to speak over the phone, or meet for a "no agenda" coffee. Always put yourself in the recipient's shoes when answering the question, "What's in it for me?"

Connect on LinkedIn.

I am a big fan of LinkedIn because it is the most powerful social network for professional networking. Instead of sending the recipient a connection request right away, use email to let them know. Not everyone checks LinkedIn frequently. Mention in your follow-up email that you are going to send them a connection request on LinkedIn, so you can offer an introduction to someone in your network (should they need it). This offers value to the recipient. In your subsequent LinkedIn connection request remind the person how you met, so they are more likely to accept your request.

Following up is a crucial part of networking that is too often overlooked or ignored. Become a better networker by following these steps. Read on for more tips about networking.

This article originally appeared in The Tennessean Newspaper.

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