Saturday, 19 April 2014

Effective Networking: From the recycling pile

Useful Connections
It's that time of year. The sunshine is finally strong enough to reach into the farthest recesses of the dusty bankers boxes on my office bookshelves. Looking at them blinking in the sun I realised I hadn't touched them in years. Despite a few office moves they have followed me around, so this morning I called their bluff and sorted them out ferociously. For the most part they contained old budget figures, meeting minutes, course notes, and various suppliers catalogues which I can now view online so my recycle bin is now bulging.

I thought I'd recycle some of the course notes in a different way, with one set from 2004 striking me as still very relevant and interesting. This piece uses 'Top 10 tips for effective networking' which was presented by Lesley Robinson (Oct 2004). Amazingly I still vaguely remember the seminar, partly because of the anticipative terror I experienced by the thought of having to actually talk with a large number strangers. As I recall we listened to her talk, then put her ideas into practice and it worked really well.

I'm generally big on communication, probably sitting in the middle of the introvert/extrovert scale - possibly even erring on the outgoing side on a good day! Like many people I enjoy being one of a small group of people; one-to-one training, lunch dates, or meetings; I will chat away quite happily. But big groups at conferences, choir events, work (anti)socials, or even larger convivial gatherings such as tweet ups still intimidate me, and leaves me wanting to run.

A number of points struck me about these notes. Firstly they are very full so I am not going to do them justice in a short blogpost which will merely pick up the salient points; and secondly, given they are virtually prehistoric, social media wasn't mentioned.


For work related gatherings, LinkedIn has already done much of the leg work for you. If some of your contacts will be at an event, you will know what they do, what interests them, and you may have congratulated them recently on a new job/anniversary etc. This assumes that you have made contact with them prior to the event, which isn't always the case. However when you do meet someone interesting at an event, it is always worth asking if they are on LinkedIn and if they are, connect with them. At least, LinkedIn/social media etc provides an instant topic of conversation talk over the glass of warm white.

Body Language and Listening Skills

The most important points that Lesley made were about body language and listening skills. No matter how you feel inside, adopt an open energising posture with shoulders back/head up and you will emit a welcoming 'come and talk to me' signal. However there is no point in striking up a conversation if you are not going to listen to the other person. When opening a conversation don't start with negative gripes, instead start with comments about the event, the speaker, etc. Even the most banal chit chat can take an interesting turn if you are both engaged and connected. If you take her advice about introducing yourself in unusual way, you should be off to a good start.

"Hello, I'm Clare and I am fascinated by 16th century wire drawing benches"

or even better

"Lovely to meet you,Vicky, my tomato plants are coming on a treat, and my salvia are blooming"

My favourite two points are the 'sum yourself up in 50 words' and 'muscle in on a group'. The summing yourself up follows on from the initial striking up of a conversation. We've all experienced trying to explain what we do in a bright, interested way only to ramble on and see a glazed expression forming on the other person. So being prepared to outline your job in an entertaining way is important in a networking context. In any other situation, you can tell them whatever comes into your head.

Muscle in on a group

Muscling in on a group who are already chatting away like they've known each other for years is the most daunting prospect yet. It is also the main reason that I will leave conferences etc early. She recommends standing close to the group, in your 'confident pose' and as the conversation finds a natural lull, people will look around more which gives you a chance to catch someone's eye. 'Best smile forwards and they will connect with you and undoubtedly welcome you in'. Phew. This is enough to make you run screaming to the nearest bathroom, hyperventilating. Still, give it a try and let me know how it goes!

I have clearly got some work to do when it comes to networking - as my above opening gambits prove. The final recommendation is practice which is a valid point and I should be signing up for the next few seminars.

It's not really a good excuse but I sometimes find making seminar/talk notes really distracting, and it's not conducive to communicating with others in the room. As for tweeting at networking events, it can either connect you with other tweeters or - and this is generally the rule, be extremely isolating. So perhaps I should leave the phone in my bag, take my witty small talk, winning smile, and go talk to people!

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