At a recent workshop I attended, one of the speakers said that she’d been taught how to network. She said it was one of the most valuable skills she has. Unsurprisingly, the participants in the room were keen to hear more. Perhaps it’s strange to be ‘taught’ how to network but the reality is, regardless of whether you an introvert or extravert, networking is something we all have to do to. Doing it well can be a game changer.
One of the key lessons were to plan and prepare. Think about who might be there and try to remember one thing about each of them eg Kate was just about to go on holiday last time I saw her so I can start the conversation with that. It sounds simple but makes it less intimidating when you have a plan and at least a starting point for a conversation.
In Women’s Agenda’s “10 steps to becoming a powerful face-to-face networker” they state that in today’s connected world, networking is more important than ever. “Have a plan for your own network strategy and set some broad goals. This is when a chance meeting could lead to something very special. And realise that as we approach the holiday season there are many more opportunities to reconnect or meet new people – a chance for opportunities.
Here’s how you can develop from being a passive networker to becoming an active or even proactive networker.
The passive networker at ‘gatherings’
This is the most basic level of networking and covers the four basic skills to ensure you can at least cope in any social situation. Many people fear networking events or choose not to contact people, often feeling shy or anxious.
1. Positive mindset
You need positive mental self-talk, like “I can talk, I can enjoy, I can meet”. Turn off that inner querulous whine: “I hate this, I am no good at small talk, I’m not a socialiser”.
Remove fear and focus on upbeat promises such as “I will make the most of this event”. (Even if things don’t work out the way you want them to, there are always other events and people to meet. Relax your expectations of both yourself and other people.)
2. Introduce yourself
When you arrive, first take a good look around, but don’t wait too long for people to find you. Choose someone to talk to, or introduce yourself to someone standing alone. Flag yourself in an interesting way, like “Hi, I’m so-and-so, are you here because of…? (State conjectured reason for being at the event, e.g. do you both run a café, hence your attendance at this coffee expo, etc) That frequently gets things warmed up.
3. Don’t be boring
Keep an eye on the other person’s body language to make sure they are interested, not looking through you to someone else behind, or their watch, or have glazed eyes. If they are, get to the point quickly. Avoid talking too much about yourself. Your enthusiasm or negativity/flatness will be contagious, so ask questions about the other person: what they do, where they work; ask about things you do not know and show that you are prepared to learn something new. HEAR what the other person is saying and pick up on points they make.
4. The art of escape
You won’t always hit it off with your first conversation. Don’t get trapped or feel obliged to remain with a bore. Practice a polite way to conclude the conversation. Networking is about circulating: that’s why you’re there. Say “Can you excuse me, please?” Smile and say “It was nice meeting you”. Go to the bathroom, or get a drink, and choose another person to talk with (not at, or to).
The active networker
This type of networker takes more risks, using the following three skills:
5. Be a central introducer
Become great at introductions: circulate and introduce yourself and others. Try to remember little things about people and what they say. Bring people together using common interests – “This is Su-Yin, who is also interested in …” or “this is David Bagelbrot, who can tell you about …” or “I’d like you two to meet because you both…” One thing I like to do is walk people right across a room as a special person – going to meet another special person, and I am engineering that introduction. Don’t worry if you forget a name; admit it immediately and make a light joke about your tendency to forget (but you always remember faces) or some such thing. Or be someone who helps others struggling with names.
6. Help others
If you think they’d welcome it, provide assistance in a way that the person will appreciate. Solve a problem for them, offer to provide some information by email later and do it! Don’t wait for a request; see an opportunity. But don’t overdo helpfulness; sometimes it takes away another person’s dignity.
7. Build your profile
Know your strengths, but promote yourself modestly. Name-dropping is sometimes OK, but do it in moderation or as little as necessary (it’s a small world and for all you know, the two people concerned may be old enemies). Drop a sliver of a story or place you visited and why that was important. Or build on what someone else has said with a relevant anecdote.
The proactive networker
This networker is super-organised, loves and instigates networking events. S/he has a very clear sense of the value of introducing people to each other.
8. Be super-organised
Know people, remember whom you have met, remember people to follow up. Keep a database of past clients, co-workers, colleagues, friends and suppliers, and maintain it regularly. Be on the lookout for up and comers. Your database could include where you met, interests and summary about the person for future reference. At the very least, file business cards with notes and/or store relevant info on your phone (not defamatory or illegal materials). Be disciplined and keep the records up to date and dispassionate. Don’t be tempted to write personal remarks or unflattering nicknames about people.
9. Create opportunity
Plan, create and promote your own networking events and opportunities. Do your research and know which groups would be relevant for you to be involved in. Make the time and effort to attend new events, take business cards, subscribe to company and industry newsletters. Be cheeky and ask an event guest speaker an interesting question, or something related to your business. Offer knowledge you possess to certain network groups. Write a blog or newsletter of your own!
10. Don’t be a user, be a chooser
Don’t focus only on what’s ‘useful’ to you. Don’t be grasping or greedy of people’s time or knowledge. And when people don’t measure up to being a wonderful communicator don’t be too quick to discard them. Maybe someone latches on, causing you to speedily realise you have little in common – OK be polite, share and move on. Don’t prolong the encounter. You may discover new friendships and opportunities with a little patience and understanding. So choose to be humble, caring and generous with your time. Networking is in some ways a form of speed-dating, but giving certain people time to show themselves can be very rewarding in its own right.”