As I think you know, one of my passions is people networking skills and how these can be developed. I feel that anyone can improve their networking skills through the application of simple, easy to learn techniques, whatever their beliefs, types or traits.
Networking should not be underestimated. It has applications in career management, finding mentors and, of course, business development and client relationship management.
Here are some of the questions that I find are focussing the minds of those contemplating face-to-face networking for the first time or looking to develop their skills further after a networking ‘gap’.
Q. Regarding networking, how do you approach people?
A. I’d say first, try to make yourself comfortable in the environment. If, like me, you are on the introversion end of the personality factor scale, you may want to consider what Prof Brian Little calls ‘the restorative niche’.
This could be as simple as heading for the drinks and nibbles table. This gives you time to assimilate your surroundings and come to terms with the stimuli that are present: lights, sounds etc. etc. You can then move on from there, looking out for groups of people that are ‘closed’ or ‘open’.
By the way, the drinks and nibbles table itself is a good conversation starter and you may find you strike up a dialogue with someone there!
Q. What do you say, how do you act?
A. I’m always amused by self-help books that say ‘be yourself’. What if you don’t know what that is? I know people in their 20’s who have a very strong sense of self purpose and, likewise, some in their 50’s and 60’s who still don’t know what they want to be when they grow up!
For me, this is about two things: context and congruency.
How you act will of course depend on the context. For example, you probably won’t behave the same on a friends’ night out as you would at a gathering of your professional peers. So try to keep the context in mind as a way to inform what’s socially acceptable and what isn’t.
Congruency is making sure things fit. Like the video of a news announcer that goes out of lip-synch, we are highly tuned to spot incongruence. If things don’t fit, it’s not a great way to put people at their ease; quite the opposite, it can be a trigger for anxiety.
This is a long way of saying; try to behave as naturally as possible. Don’t be too self-conscious. Research tells us that other people don’t notice our faux pas quite as much as we do. Don’t let self-criticism stifle you i.e. don’t enter into paralysis by analysis.
Q. Most importantly how do you make a good, lasting impression?
A. Heidi Grant-Halverson’s recent book reminded us of the old adage ‘You don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression’. First impressions are very important for a whole host of reasons, including psychological bias. Grant-Halverson acknowledges that it is possible to correct a bad impression, but it takes a lot of work.
So the usual stuff applies: have a confident bearing (see Amy Cuddy), look people in the eye and, above all else, smile naturally.
Q. Building on this, how do you bring conversation to an end when you want to talk to someone else without coming across as rude?
A. Great question and I guess we’ve all been there! I think a bit of humility will help. Who knows what’s going on in the world of this person who seems to want to display leech-like behaviour toward you? However, as a Strategic Business Networker ®, you owe it to yourself to gain best value from the networking event, so you have to move on.
Heather Townsend offers the advice of never leaving someone alone; perhaps introduce the person to another friend or associate (but I’m not sure they’ll thank you for this later!).
I prefer the softer approaches of: “It’s been great speaking with you but,
…I need to go refresh my drink.”
…I need to go to the rest room.” (Hope they don’t follow you!)
…we’re both here to network, so I’ll move on around the room”.
You could introduce them to the host (of course, you will have made contact with the host earlier) and provide a short intro, before moving away.
Q. It can take quite a lot of courage for some people to simply initialise conversations, so once that hurdle is crossed and if you are not naturally confident, how do you self-promote and sell yourself to that person without sounding too ‘arrogant,’ ‘annoying,’ or ‘pushy’?
A. Simple answer to this one. Never sell at a networking event. By all means influence, gently persuade, steer, manoeuvre, show your best side… but don’t sell.
Any form of networking is only Stage 1. The objective should always be to move the conversation forward to another context that is more suited to engaging in self-marketing and getting your brand message across. A room full of people chattering away is not conducive to this. Further details in my recent blog post.
Q. Is it appropriate to make contact with individuals after an event?
A. As per the last question, absolutely! It’s ok to make contact if you feel you have been encouraged to do so. In fact this is an area where, in my research, even experienced networkers consistently fail. So the good news is, if you do follow up, you’ll be in the lucky minority. But how you do it is the key…
Q. Should you keep in ‘regular’ contact, or simply approach them when you need help/advice.
A. Making contact with someone on a Monday and asking them for help on a Tuesday is never a good networking strategy. Here’s the rub: networking is a long game; it won’t necessarily produce instant results. This is why students need to build networking into their academic day on a regular and consistent basis. Even 10 minutes a day on LinkedIn will start to show results within a few weeks.
Public speaking is another area which sometimes raises concerns. However, before I respond I’ll have to have a word with my mentor and voice coach Claire Galmiche! So we’ll save that for another day.
I hope the above has been helpful in responding to any concerns you may have and in encouraging you to get out there and network!
I look forward to catching up soon. Now… where are those drinks and nibbles!
Best wishes, Darryl
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