Personal networking is great fun! - particularly when our motivating thought is ‘what can I do for you’? We are all tired of those people whose aim is to ‘make friends’ so that they can sell us their products or services. We want genuine positive relationships coming from the person’s ‘heart’.
Networking occurs wherever people gather. Sometimes we distinguish between a ‘formal’ group, where we have chosen to ‘join’ so that we ‘belong’ and ‘informal’ groups which develop and have a life of their own. Often those ‘formal’ groups give rise to ‘informal’ clusters. For example, many of us joined the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business specifically to learn and to grow our businesses. However, it is fascinating how over time, although our common interest remains significant, friendship and support are factors which help bind the members together.
Within the formal Chamber structure are sub-structures like the new ‘Marketing Mix’ where I was privileged to be the speaker last night. It was a relatively small group so I adapted and changed my ‘keynote’ into a more interactive workshop. In the picture below we are role-playing how to gain the greatest networking value out of ‘cocktail’ functions. (The signs and fancy glasses added to our fun.)
I find it sad that so many people avoid social functions simply because they are uncomfortable attending alone. They miss recognising and optimising opportunities. How do I go and talk to people? What will I talk about? How do I conduct myself? How do I escape if I’m not enjoying myself? These are social skills that can be learned. And we cover these in our networking workshops. But people need to keep practising.
I also find it important to make participants conscious of the kinds of conversations we have. In coaching we talk about the sequence of ‘conversation for relationship’, ‘conversation for possibility’ and then ‘conversation for action’. And in building relationships ‘out there’ in the real world, we also need to establish the relationship as strongly as possible before exploring possibilities and then taking appropriate action.
Ten tips on personal networking
- Social media connections and other electronic means of communicating are great – but there is no substitute for meeting people ‘face to face’. One organisation that I was working with recently introduced a new mantra: ‘Pick up the phone!’ People were sitting at their desks sending e-mails to the person next to them instead of holding conversations. The leadership realised that personal relationships were dwindling.
- Approach networking with an attitude of ‘what can I do for you’?
- Don’t ever give out your business card without first asking permission. ‘May I give you one of my business cards’? And the same applies to your advertising material. At social gatherings or networking events, keep it to yourself and use only at the appropriate time.
- Practise the ’30 second introduction’ which helps to lead to quality conversation. Please have a look at the previous article, ‘Greetings’.
- Practise ‘Quality Conversation’. The template can be found in our article ‘Building Relationships Through Quality Conversation’. You can practise this every day of your life (unless you are alone on a desert island, in solitary confinement, incapacitated in some other way or voluntarily participating in a ‘silence retreat’.) I practise with my grandchildren and two of them have become far better than I am. Whenever we are in the car, one will say to me, ‘Granny Brenda, can we please play conversations’?
- Regard networking as a process. What you do before the event, at the event and afterwards are all important in building relationships and sustaining them. Networking is not a transaction. Just meeting a person is not ‘networking’ – although it is an important part of the process.
- In order to get the most out of a social event where you will possibly network, it is a good idea to ask for a list of participants in advance. It is not always possible, but in the case of conferences, for example, it is a tool which is often available. I go through the attendance list and decide who I really want to meet or ‘connect’ with again.
- Then I find out as much about each participant as possible. For example, at a recent event, by looking at their website, I found a photo of the person I was hoping to meet. At the crowded functions, I at least had an idea of what he looked like, was able to identify him and go and speak to him. Having looked at their corporate website, and knowing some background made conversation easier.
- When you meet a person, consciously use as many of your senses as possible to create a more vivid impression of that person. What do they look like? Could you describe them to some-one else easily afterwards (even the Police!)? And if you exchange business cards, look at their card carefully. Show interest. And look at the spelling of the name and all the other details. How tall are they? Concentrate on the sound of their voice. Would you recognise them if they phoned? What perfume or aftershave are you aware of? When you shook hands, what did their handshake feel like? These are just some of the questions you could ask.
- After the event, contact the person again within 24 hours. You are helping to cement the memory of meeting you. That message or phonecall can be as simple as:
- ‘I enjoyed meeting you at xy function.
- Include at least one fact unique to them – so that they feel as though this isn’t just a generic message that you are sending to everyone. ‘It is interesting that you and Mpumi will be working as associates in the future and I look forward to hearing more about the latest development.
- Let’s stay in contact.’
The definition which I developed over time and use in ‘Networking Tactics’ and ‘ABCs of Effective Networking’ is as follows:
‘Personal Networking’ is an active ongoing process which involves making contacts at a time when we probably don’t need them, organising and updating the relevant information, sustaining contact so that we build positive relationships and when the need arises, if appropriate, drawing on those relationships for mutual advantage.’
I need to change this definition to incorporate an attitude of ‘what can I do for you’? What are your suggestions?
For more information on workshops covering building positive relationships and other aspects of networking, or for details of ‘keynotes’ on these topics, please contact Brenda Eckstein on +27 82 4993311 or firstname.lastname@example.org