If you’re reading this with interest because you’re wondering ‘What’s in it for me?’ I think you’ve not quite grasped what networking, in a professional sense, is all about.
I’m guessing, like me, you’ve all attended a networking event with someone else? This in many ways gets you to sample the drinks and canapés with a trusted colleague; however it doesn’t challenge what you’re doing and in reality it’s all about you enjoying the evening in your comfort zone.
Don’t get me wrong, networking with colleagues and friends is still a fun way to spend time out of the office, but if your aim is to further develop your professional networks the following will help you to achieve your targets.
This can still be achieved if you choose to go with a friend, however, have a couple of rules in place to make sure the outcome of your networking event benefits you and your career, as well as others. A good tip is to part ways with that trusted colleague on arrival and have a meeting point at the end of the evening to catch up and debrief.
A few easy notes that have helped me develop my networking skill over the years:
- I have a preference to go to events by myself. Note this wasn’t always the case, however, as my networks have developed over time (it’s definitely not a fast process) those people at your industry events will become friendly faces.
- Always offer before you ask & give of yourself with generosity. This is what it means to use your networks. I’d suggest you always start the conversation by asking the other person about themselves, their career, what they do, who do they work for etc. To make it easier on yourself, approach the lost looking individual or the two people who obviously came together and don’t know anyone else. If you attend an event to share your knowledge and experience by asking others about themselves, and make the conversation about the other person, you will walk away from the event energised & pleased with your new true connection.
- Once you’ve connected with someone, stay in touch. My rule of thumb is to add them the next morning on Social Media (LinkedIn) and if possible send a personal note thanking them for the interesting discussion. A planned coffee catch up in a couple of weeks will help to cement this new relationship.
- Go for quality conversations not quantity. Don’t be the crazy person working the room with a fist full of business cards and no desire to get to know the actual person. It’s not a numbers game!
- Take the time to make a real connection. Aim for one really great discussion as this will help you to build genuine relationships
- Don’t forget the power of social media. Use your virtual contacts to supplement not replace face to face discussions. LinkedIn and other forms of social media are a great way to connect with your network, but please don’t let if replace an in person connection.
- Find out which events will be in line with your business plan. Target new market sectors by immersing yourself and getting to know its people. Think people and not titles.
- Be trustworthy & approachable. Having authenticity and a positive attitude will always make you stand out in the crowd.
If you approach networking with the desire to help someone else it becomes a win/win for both parties. See it as a new skill & one that needs a quick polish from time to time.
Written by Margaret O’Malley, National Research Manager/Senior Consultant