I recently ran a workshop at the JUMP Forum in Brussels on political skills and networking. There was a great and engaged turnout for what turned out to be a power workshop, because in 90 minutes I could only focus on giving a broad brush overview. However, at one point in the presentation, I did ask the delegates if anyone had come to the JUMP event with a networking strategy, a game plan. There was an almost deafening silence and a complete stillness of hands.
I can totally relate to that, having lived at one time in something of a glass house myself , so am not going to throw any stones at anyone else! I have been a delegate at any number of conferences, where I have pitched up, sat with my friends in a few seminars, briefly talked to some distant acquaintances and even perhaps been introduced to someone new. I’ve had a glass of inferior wine, a few limp nibbles with other known associates and then headed off home until the next one. Strategic networking score = 0.
In my own defence (and everyone else’s) these events are sometimes the only places that we see some particular faces. I am also extremely social, so it’s not that I have a problem talking to strangers, it is just more comfortable to be with people I already know. Monica Stallings calls this ” multi-plex” networking and not unsurprisingly we all prefer to network in that way, although men show a greater and marked willingness to network strategically.
So, a number of people asked me after the event what they could have done differently, other than just showing up with a business card and a smile? Both are clearly valuable tools for the professional networker, but obviously the first thing with strategic networking, is to actually have a strategy! Think up a plan and set some goals!
- Research the delegates and speakers in advance. Is there an event email list and can you connect with people before you get there and suggest that you meet? This saves a lot of time walking around struggling with that challenging balancing act with your coffee, canapé, conference folder and briefcase, looking completely lost. It is great for people who are nervous about going into rooms where everyone seem to know each other. It is also an opportunity to research their backgrounds, their career paths, read their blogs or check out their tweets. That one little strategy creates great ice-breaker topics for those who are more on the shy side. It also provides a good reason to interrupt a group, to ask if they know that person, rather than simply hovering on the outskirts feeling awkward. And yet again, when you’ve been cornered by someone and desperately want to move on, you can always say quite legitimately that you have promised to meet such and such a person , thus facilitating a swift, but credible, get away.
- Always make a point of sitting beside people you don’t know at all the sessions – see above: saves even more wandering around looking lost.
- Set a goal of speaking to x new people during the day, or collecting a certain number of business cards. Someone gave me a great tip of wearing a jacket with one pocket for my own cards and another for newly collected cards. Note to self – don’t mix them up!
- Write any pieces of information on the back of the card which you think might be useful for the next meeting: e.g. “ twins, ski hound, drinks like fish”. Transfer to your Outlook or other contacts data base.
- Follow up with an email, or by connecting on a professional platform (LinkedIn, Twitter). By doing this, you connect not only with the card giver but their entire network.
What other tips can you add?