Networking

by Heather White

Common questions

  1. What is networking?
  2. Isn’t networking about being false and superficial?
  3. Prove it works!
  4. There just isn’t enough time to network – what can I do?
  5. How do I break into or out of a group?
  6. How can I get away from a boring person?
  7. How can I bring the conversation round to the topic I want to talk about?
  8. I’m afraid I’ll look stupid or be out of my depth – what can I do?

 

1. What is networking?

Networking is a business and personal marketing tool and, put simply, forms part of your overall marketing mix. That’s it. There is no mystery here at all. What should any form of marketing do? It should produce a ‘result’ based on your outcome. Say you have just joined a new department and it is vital you get to know your colleagues, clients and suppliers. Then networking, as a tool, will help you achieve this aim. It should engage with your chosen audience and produce a result. Networking is about getting your brand out there – it’s about what people say about you when you are not in the room.

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2. Isn’t networking about being false and superficial?

The most important point to make here is that your definition of networking will determine how you go about doing it – or not. Perhaps you would prefer to use another word for networking? Please do so; in fact, I beg you that you do. If one word lights you up and fills you with motivation – that is great news. So call it making friends, finding useful contacts, building relationships, communication and interpersonal skills.

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3. Prove it works!

People who are good networkers do so because

  • Being in the know is important.
  • Gaining recognition from your peer group and senior management is important.
  • Meeting certain people across the company is important.
  • Understanding what the whole business does is useful.
  • Being involved with special projects is a useful experience.
  • Finding your next job or your next role is important.
  • Helping your contacts/clients/colleagues and so on is important.
  • Developing your skills to the next level is important.
  • You don’t ever want to be made redundant again.
  • You don’t ever want to be overlooked again.
  • You don’t ever want to miss out again.
  • To improve people’s perception of you is important.

What more proof do you need?

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4. There just isn’t enough time to network – what can I do?

‘Professional networkers’ don’t think lack of time is a problem. Their mindset is that networking (building relationships, being of service and so on) is a way of ‘being’, not a burden. If you pace the level of connections you make in a week/day and are consistent in your activity, then you always have time over a week to drop someone an email or make a quick call or text them.

Professional networkers have no more or less time than you. They simply know that not to network is a mistake and a time-costly one at that. If they are not connected to the right people, they know it will take twice as long to find out stuff, or they may never hear about opportunities and so on. They stay alert to tiny windows of opportunity to network – like reading something and passing it on.

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5. How do I break into or out of a group?

Stand on your own for a few minutes and simply watch the room. People will be very engrossed with others, so you won’t be noticed doing this. To select which group to join, simply observe the intensity of conversation between people. Join a group where there is a gap and walk in, making eye contact with one person (normally the one opposite you).

It is perfectly OK to move around at these events, but you should take your leave in a very professional manner – you can lose a few brownie points by doing this badly. Say why you are leaving: for example, ‘I wish to continue circulating. Thank you, it has been most interesting.’

As you leave

  • Make sure you do not leave someone feeling rejected or unimportant
  • Shake hands with the person/group, repeating names, if appropriate
  • State if you are going to follow up, when and how (email, or telephone)
  • If you have not done so, give out your card (again, only if appropriate).

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6. How can I get away from a boring person?

  • First of all, make sure it is not you who is boring!
  • Take responsibility for making the conversation interesting.
  • Take time to find out what really motivates this person.
  • Do not destroy a person’s self-esteem by making them feel useless.
  • To stop a conversation, simply hold out your hand to shake theirs. Like a magnet, their hand will come out to yours, though they may not understand why.
  • Shake their hand and say that you have other people you must meet.
  • Offer to introduce them to someone else who might be useful to them.

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7. How can I bring the conversation round to the topic I want to talk about?

People only listen when they are ready to, so create that opportunity. You know how it is when you are itching to say something and the other person carries on talking – it’s as if your ears go deaf as your brain doesn’t want to forget this important point. When people are feeling like this, their facial expressions show it – some people even open and close their mouths, resembling a gold fish! But remember you are not the only one, and if someone else is talking, let them finish their point. Make sure you hear them out totally, and do completely engage. After all, if you don’t hear them out, why would they want to listen to you?

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8. I’m afraid I’ll look stupid or be out of my depth – what can I do?

The best way of building confidence and reducing clumsiness is to practise that which you dislike. And there is no better way to do this than going to an event to meet lots of people you are unlikely to see again, so you can practise on them. What is so fabulous about people is that they rarely hid their emotions. Consider for a moment the frown, the quizzical look, the smile and nodding in agreement...

  • Laugh at yourself when something embarrassing happens and don’t take it seriously – just make a note to avoid the pitfall next time.
  • Don’t hold back or you will set yourself aside and make others feel uncomfortable.
  • Ask questions and listen carefully, but do join in.
  • Practise your interpersonal skills on people you are unlikely to do business with and watch their response.
  • If you don’t get the response you want, try again and again and again.
  • Practise your body language, making introductions, developing conversations and questions.
  • Purposely move out of your comfort zone.
  • Place yourself intentionally in difficult conversations and learn to feel happy in these.

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