Networking – why do it & how to enjoy it

networking

LONDON, United Kingdom — If you love networking, great! You probably do not need to read this article (though you may still pick up some tips). Whereas if you are less confident, or if you hate networking, read on.

Why network?

In this technology age, it is really easy to become faceless – to communicate remotely and never spend time actually talking to people. However, human contact is a fundamental need, and strengthening our ability to connect with people stands us in good stead not just in business life, but on a personal level too.

When we buy something – whether it is a service or a product, we do not just buy what the service does for us. We also buy how it is sold, how it is delivered and who delivers it. We are much more likely to buy from someone we know, like or trust.

The same principle applies when we are trying to progress in our careers. It is hugely helpful to build a rapport with others who may have influence – whether in your own organisation or in others where you might be looking for your next customer or career move.

There are three phases to networking. Get these sorted and you will find it easy:

  1. Before – adopt the right mindset before you go
  2. During – engage with others effectively
  3. After – follow up promptly and appropriately

Before – adopt the right mindset before you go

Each time you go to a networking event, have a clear sense of why you are there, and what you want to achieve. There can be lots of different reasons, for example:

  •  To learn something
  • To meet someone who can help you
  • To have fun
  • To meet someone that you can help
  • To raise your profile
  • To practise your social skills
  • To get inspiration and ideas

Getting clear on the purpose of your attendance helps you to “switch on” your antennae to look for that kind of experience.
Networking

During – engage with others effectively

Now that you know why you are networking and what you want to achieve, it is time to think about how to behave when you are there. Here are a few simple tips:

  • If you are given a badge, wear it on the right. If you shake hands with anyone, the badge will be in their eyeline as they look at you, increasing the likelihood that they will read it and focus on who you are!
  • When you enter the room, pause and look around to take stock of the layout. If you have your head up and look focused, nobody will mistake this for hesitancy or nervousness.
  • Join a group with an uneven number. It can be hard to break into the conversation where two people are talking, but with three or five there is always someone who is less engaged at any point in time, making it easier to join in.
  • If you find it hard to start a conversation, plan three simple questions in advance. These could be:
    • What brings you here today / tonight?
    • What is your interest in … ? (the topic of the evening or organisation running the event)
    • What do you think about … ? (something in the headlines that day)

Notice that these are all open questions, i.e. questions that cannot be answered with yes or no, but which open up a dialogue between you. Using open questions (what, who, why, where, when, how) is a great way to get a conversation going.

  • Listen as much as you speak. Really listen, don’t just wait for your turn to speak. Listening shows interest in what the other person is saying, and enables you to respond appropriately.
  • Build rapport. Even if you have gone to the event with a specific objective, take the time to build a little rapport with each person you speak to. You never know what you may find out that could be interesting or useful!
  • Ask for contact details (usually a business card) from anyone you establish rapport with and definitely from anyone with whom you agree a follow up action. Do not rely on them to contact you!

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After – Follow up promptly and appropriately

After the event, make time to follow up on all the contacts you made. Ideally you should do this within 48 hours. These contacts probably fall into two categories, those for whom a specific action is needed, and those where you simply want to confirm the connection.

Specific actions speak for themselves – whether it was an introduction you promised to effect or a document you promised to share, make sure you do it! Also tell them you enjoyed meeting them and would love to stay in touch.

The simplest way to maintain contact is by using social media, and in a work context this is likely to be by connecting with them on LinkedIn. However you may also want to follow them or their organisation on Twitter and, depending on the reason for the connection with them, on other platforms such as Facebook or Instagram.

Amanda Cullen About the author

Executive coach and owner of Coaching with Amanda, supporting leaders and teams to step up to their full potential. Has a background in the pensions industry. Known for helping her clients achieve clarity, and being practical and action-oriented.

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