“Nothing can move your career further and faster than having a base of associates positioned to support you in your goals. Conversely, few things feel better than using your talents to help others achieve their goals. Once considered informal, unstructured and random, networking is now viewed as an essential way of developing professional relationships. It keeps you in touch by connecting you to new people and information. It is one of the highest forms of collaboration.”
Jimmy Calano & Jeff Salzman, CareerTracking, Gower, Aldershot, 1988, p. 244.
One of the hardest things to do at a conference or workshop is to start talking to people you’ve never met before. Here’s a strategy for making this easier:
The coffee or lunch queue is a good place to begin. Usually there are at least half a dozen people waiting in line. Strike up a conversation with someone in the line, and then continue that conversation when you leave the queue. But, importantly, talk to the person behind you in the line, so that you can wait for that person after you get served. If you start talking to the person ahead of you, s/he might get their coffee and move away while you’re still being served.
Here’s an idea
A common mistake many managers make at networking events (seminars, meetings, conferences) is to try to talk to too many people – in an attempt to ‘really get their money’s worth’.
Harvey Mackay, in his book ‘Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty’, tells managers to spend time with fewer people at such functions. One or two meaningful dialogues are infinitely more valuable than time spent flitting from one person to another. The aim is to build meaningful relationships – not just see how many people you can meet.
Tea with Churchill
What a privilege it would have been to have had morning tea with the great Winston Churchill, and to have listened to him speaking profoundly on the topic-of-the-day around the table.
The late British actor Jon Pertwee was once honoured in this way. In 1938, when acting in a play in Cambridge with actress Sarah Churchill, her father would occasionally drive down from his home to take Sarah and a couple of her friends out to tea.
“I will never, ever, forget the occasion,’ Pertwee recalled, ‘or the advice he gave me that day. He told me:
Never miss an opportunity to learn, my boy. Find out what the person who is sitting next to you at dinner, on the train or in a meeting knows about, and then ask him how he does it. You’re sure to be enthralled. It’s good to learn something every day, for it keeps us on our toes, and gives a zest to living.
Today, in business and management, we use the term ‘networking’-exposing yourself to new people, new ideas, new ways of looking at things, and, importantly, increasing your visibility and advancing your career prospects.
So, if you want to advance in business – and in life – heed Churchill’s advice, get out there, promote yourself, and make contact. Network now.
Get out of your office and go to the bathroom
Do you spend most of your day in your office? You shouldn’t. Get out and walk around. Meet people. Greet people. Talk to people. When Lyndon Johnson was a first-year senator in the United States Senate, he would leave his office a dozen times a day to go to the bathroom-even though he had a restroom in his office! On his trips he would try to “bump into” as many other senators as he could; and each time he would establish another contact and acquire more information. Adopt the same strategy yourself – and make contacts with employees, coworkers, other managers, suppliers – and anyone else who might have information you can use.
Getting the most out of a gathering
The purpose of networking can vary based on one’s own agenda, yet the primary focus is to meet people, and have people meet you. In other words, you have the opportunity to market yourself and your business in a relaxed, social situation. This often proves to be a comfortable situation for all involved.
There are many opportunities to network in virtually every community on some scale, e.g. by visiting, and possibly joining, several organizations, but whatever you choose to do, it will only be effective if you use it. Regular attendance at the meetings is extremely important for effective networking. As you attend the meetings, you will be recognized by more and more people, as well as getting to know more and more people, and this facilitates you reaching your goal. People will know you and your company, and refer to you, and you will do the same for them to reciprocate. Personal referrals and ‘word of mouth’ advertising is invaluable and highly effective.
To make the most of any networking meeting you attend, the Texas Center for Women’s Business Enterprise has listed the following guidelines:
- Arrive early. If you are there before the mass of the group, you are assured the maximum opportunity to meet everyone.
- Arrive with a goal in mind. Before the meeting, set a goal for yourself for that day, and then achieve it. Don’t arrive at the meeting feeling lackadaisical, or unfocused. Take some time for yourself to get yourself focused before the meeting.
- Make sure you have writing materials and plenty of business cards and/or brochures.
- Make sure you have a purse or briefcase to deposit the materials and business cards which you will accumulate.
- Make sure to shake hands when introduced, or when you introduce yourself.
- Don’t huddle up with co-workers or friends.
- It is easier to be approached by others if you don’t appear to be busy with idle conversation.
- Don’t be afraid to approach people you don’t know and introduce yourself.
- Wear a name tag or business card.
10. Don’t hard sell yourself or your company. Networking meetings are to be social and semi-informal/relaxed.
11. Do your best to remember names of individuals you have met.
12. Make sure your personal appearance is appropriate for the gathering. Your appearance is the first thing people notice.
13. After the meeting, it is important that you follow up with the people you have met in a timely manner. If someone was interested in your company, don’t wait two or three weeks to drop them a line; they may have forgotten you by then. Also, it is very important to follow through on any promises you may have made. If you told someone you would call them with some information, make sure you do it! It is very important to be credible and reliable in order for your networking efforts to be truly fruitful.
Networking can be costly in fees, dues, luncheons, etc., but if done effectively, it can prove to be an invaluable investment in your business’s success.