I attended an event last night on the subject of networking, organised by the Young MCA (Management Consultancies Association) which energised me so much that I had to blog about it! Not only do I believe this topic is crucial to everyone’s personal and career development, it’s also an area that is incredibly relevant and valuable in local government. I’ve always been impressed and warmed by how willing local government officers are to share their knowledge and experiences with other authorities, and I’m convinced that the more we share and learn from each other, the better.
I realise that for many ‘networking’ is an ugly word that can generate feelings of fear, rejection and an image of an evening lost making small talk. However, despite a few awkward moments (you both know when the conversation is dying), I genuinely enjoyed connecting with new people and came away buzzing. The trainer Lee Warren (who is also a magician!) gave us a great interactive presentation with practical exercises on how to make networking bearable and even enjoyable!
The lessons I took away from it were:
- Most people hate the thought of networking – but we should realise how important it is. There’s been a lot of research into the ‘strength of weak ties’ which says new social and professional opportunities are more likely to come from our acquaintances than our close friends, as they have access to information and people that we don’t.
- We should ideally have a strategy behind our networking – this does not have to be coldly calculating how we can ‘use’ people to our advantage, but having goals will help direct your efforts and outcomes. This could be both pre-event and long-term – a great idea was to research the attendees in advance, even asking the host for a guest list or to be introduced to a key person.
- People who are effective at networking are skilled at moving the conversation swiftly on from the (boring) initial questions when you first meet someone: ‘What’s your name? Where do you work? What do you do? Where did you come from today?’… towards topics more personal to both of you that are more interesting to talk about – e.g. common acquaintances, shared interests, mutual values. Ideas on how to do this are:
– Try finding something you have in common as soon as possible. Lee suggested common themes such as love (i.e. dreams / passions/ issues you care about), money (career, goals), leisure (the most overused but easiest) or health (work/life balance).
– Ask open questions focusing on the other person, such as: ‘ how do you feel about…, how do you manage to…, what do you think about…, what advice would you give to…, where did you get started…’
- Remembering someone’s name. It is incredibly effective and easier to connect with someone if you use and remember their name. Helpful tips are to:
– Make a conscious effort to listen to their name (surprisingly hard to do unless you focus on it)
– Comment on their name in some way (or do this internally if your thoughts are inappropriate!). People with difficult or unusual names will rarely find this offensive.
– Repeat their name out loud at least once – for me this needs to be done as soon as possible! e.g. nice to meet you John, John what do you think about… If you’re worried about this sounding weird – it doesn’t.
- The importance of Linked In (or other future professional networking platform). Asking people to connect on Linked In is a low risk strategy, as they can always decline later behind the safety of their computer.
– Without online credibility you have no credibility anymore – check what comes up in a search of yourself
– Add people via a desktop computer which allows you to personalise your Invite message
– Ask clients for testimonials – you can tell them what kind you want or what skills you’d prefer they focused on
– If you can, try adding some of your personality into your profile to reflect who you are.
- Preparing an ‘elevator pitch’ in advance – this should cover 3 things: you, a memorable or interesting fact, and something you want or are interested in.
- An elegant way of leaving a conversation and moving on is to ask ‘so who are you hoping to meet tonight?’
- Staying in touch. Make time to stay in touch with your extended network – for example, send them something relevant and interesting once a quarter. You want to add value, not be a nuisance. On a similar note, you may want to make a few notes about the people you meet on the back of their business card before you forget!
I’m keen to hear how other people manage to stay in touch with their extended network. Does anyone have any practical tips?