The idea of networking prompts anxiety for many of us. And yet it is so important. You have to build relationships no matter what industry you are in.
Lois Frankel author of Nice Girls Still Don’t Get the Corner Office says that by the time you need a relationship it’s too late to build one.
As a guideline, Executive Coach Tom Henschel www.essentialcomm.com recommends that 5% of your work time should be allocated to nurturing and building your network – that’s about 2 hours a week.
I went to a networking event last week. As a networking event it wasn’t great. Too many people had been crammed around the tables of a small restaurant. We were unable to move once seated and unable to hear much due to the noise.
But relationships can still be built. I strengthened a preexisting relationship and met six more women. I didn’t come away with business and I didn’t go with that intention. I do know what those seven people do for work, I even know a few of their ‘whys’, and they know a bit about what I’m working on.
It wasn’t always like this. I confess I used to either completely avoid networking events or go but still avoid it by only talking to existing friends. But I’ve worked on it and continue to improve.
If you want to improve on your networking skills then these tips could make a real difference to your enjoyment and success.
Planting not hunting
The metaphor I have learned from Tom Henshel is to view networking as planting not hunting. You are planting seeds and growing relationships with people. Some of those relationships will fruit at some unknown time in the future. Some of them wont, but if you don’t plant the seed in the first place you can be pretty much guaranteed they won’t.
Hunting is networking with an end goal in mind. The idea that you have to achieve something or get something out of that one event. Not only does this put pressure on you it could put pressure on the relationship.
Know why you are going
You could still set a goal but in the form of … I will meet three new people. In saying “Yes” to this networking opportunity you are saying “No” to something else so it is important to be clear about why you are going. You also need to fully show up and use the time wisely – don’t just hide in a corner.
A lot of networking success is about preparation. Do your homework and come prepared to add value. Who might you expect to be there? What is this organisation currently working on? Who are the committee members and what are they working on? What can you find out about invited speakers? This will help you to have plenty to ask and talk about.
Energised but calm
The impression you make can be influenced by your levels of energy. Meeting new people while feeling fatigued takes a mammoth effort. But sometimes getting energised (e.g. with more coffee) can leave you agitated and scattered.
You can create a state of alertness and vibrancy while also being calm and grounded. Experiment to find what works for you. Going for a run might work for some and not others. You could try walking, yoga, mindfulness meditation, a micro-nap, or singing in the car if you have a way to travel. And diaphragmatic breathing to deal with the initial nerves when you get there.
Don’t just rely on close connections, because they’re likely to be in the same circles as you. It’s fine to start with your close connections to warm up, but you can’t stop there. Remember your goal. Look around for welcoming people. If you don’t see anyone, joining a line somewhere is a great way to strike up a conversation with the person next to you.
The secret to being interesting is simply to be interested. Be curious about people. Ask lots of questions, really listen, and be genuinely interested in learning about the other person. Share the airtime. Talking too much about yourself will make others dislike you.
Following on with the idea of planting not hunting and being prepared are the principles of generosity and abundance. Think about how you can add value to the person you have met. Can you send them an article, do something for them, or introduce them to someone? Giving is more attractive than taking.
I have found that when I approach networking with the above ideas in mind I am both more relaxed and more focused. I’m curious to know what networking hacks you can add.