Networking – do you like it or hate it? Does the thought of it fill you with horror “Oh no another ghastly work social event to attend. What am I going to talk about?” Or do you enjoy the chance to meet new people that could help your career or business to thrive. Or perhaps you like the idea of being to help other people find new business opportunities.
At some time in our working lives whether we are business owners, executives or academics we are all subjected to networking either as a willing participant or somewhat reluctantly!
According to Robyn Henderson a master international networker, networking currently accounts for 87% of business in the market yet many people fail to see the importance of it as a business and career building skill. Business relationships are based around trust, we like to deal with people we know and trust. Based on this we will also take on a third party endorsement. Someone we know has someone they trust enough to refer to us, we will openly use them.
What are the problems?
Networking seems to be easier for some than others. With my clients I often hear them say “Oh so and so is an expert networker, they can work a room with ease”. Many of my clients find networking difficult, particularly if they have a more introvert personality style. They often have a fear about the whole process, which becomes a self-perpetuating cycle, which gets reinforced when they attend a networking event and don’t feel like they interacted well.
Below are some of the issues they encounter, do you?
• Do you decline invitations to events even thought there are business advantages to being there?
• Do you not feel uncomfortable making small talk?
• Do you know how to approach people or once talking to them know how to detangle yourself and break rapport to speak to someone else?
• Are you uncomfortable with silence and don’t know if you should fill the silence or stay quiet?
• Are you comfortable targeting specific people, do you have an approach for doing it?
To support them I take them through a process of analyzing all the elements of networking they don’t like and then we work out a plan to overcome them.
One of the key elements is to align the person’s purpose and intention for being there:
What will this achieve? What goal do they have in attending this event? What could be the long-term benefits?
I then explore their fears and unpack these. And often use the question: What is the worse thing that can happen? Does it really matter if you get stuck with a moment of silence? Are you willing to try?
And then look at the aspirational piece:
How would it be for you if you developed more confidence to attend networking events? What could this open up for you?
I then do some state management empowering them to find their most resourceful state to be in to attend the event.
How do you want to think about yourself and the event?
How do you want to feel?
What behaviours will you show which give you confidence?
Below are some tips to help you be prepared?
• If possible get a list of attendees at the event you are planning to attend and work out who you want to meet
• Align your intention for being there
• Have enough business cards and a pen to write notes down on others cards to remind you of the conversation
• People love to talk about themselves so if you are in a uncomfortable situation ask them questions, it takes the pressure off yourself
• If you are uncomfortable talking to strangers then prepare some topics or questions you can ask. Eg: How is work, what are you doing in the Christmas holidays? What do you think of that world event?
• Don’t fear pauses, good networkers are great listeners, sometimes people need time to speak or a bit of encouragement
• Practice introducing yourself and what your opening line might be when meeting a new group. Eg “Hi my name is XX would you mind if I joined you?”
• Practice some ways to leave a group comfortably eg, “ I am hoping to connect with XX would you mind if I went to speak to them?”
• Introduce people to other people which makes you look like you are confident and comfortable
• Be friendly, smile a lot and look interested, there are always people more nervous than you believe it or not.
• Model good communicators in your approach: they listen to you, allow you to finish without interrupting, make good eye contact, act as though they genuinely care about your answer, remember past conversations they have had with you.
Great resources for building networking confidence
• Look up Robyn Henderson. She has a great book ‘How to Master Networking’ which is easy to read and there are many other cds and resources: http://www.networkingtowin.com.au
• Join a local Toast masters speaking group which will help build your confidence.
• Joining a networking group such as BNI in your local area. This is a hard networking group where you are the only person representing your industry and attend weekly to build up trust and relationships with up to 35 other members to help promote your business. You can visit these groups just as a visitor:
• Business chicks – Offers soft networking events and is available around Australia in key capital cities