I’m going to a networking event – who’s coming with me? Don’t all shout at once. Mention networking and we all agree it’s a vital part of our role. Suggest actually going to a networking event and you start to sniff the fear. We’ve all got stories to tell of networking from Planet Nasty and may just find we have some very important email housekeeping to do on the days when a networking opportunity comes a knocking. But it doesn’t have to be that bad.
It helps if you understand what networking really is. Check out the dictionary definition. It says that networking is “a supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups having a common interest”. That puts things in a whole different light. The idea of networking is to develop links where you can share knowledge, contacts and good practice.
Before any networking activity, you need to do some research. As a teenager during the 80’s with the most appalling taste in films, a favourite was and still is Working Girl where a secretary impersonates her boss to help her climb the corporate ladder. We’re not advocating this as a career strategy; however, her lack of preparation before attending a networking event where she wants to meet one particular man she’s keen to do business with, gets her into hot water. She (Melanie Griffith) meets him (Harrison Ford) but he doesn’t disclose who he is and she knows no different. Admittedly back in 1988 she couldn’t Google him but still, she could have done some prep before she went. Nowadays it is much easier to do some on-line research on people and groups before you go, so there is no sensible reason to walk into an event to a room full of strangers. You will feel so much better if you have an idea about who will be there and whom you would like to meet and also – what you would like to talk about with them.
There has to be a real commitment to being both interesting to be with and interested in what others have to say. This kind of reciprocity means no one fleeces or feels fleeced by others as part of the networking experience. It also means you gain the real long term benefits of networking – raising awareness for your organisation, receiving targeted leads and referrals, sharing ideas and solving problems with other practitioners in your field and becoming more influential in your sector.
And if all this still fills you with horror, remember that nowadays, networking doesn’t always happen face to face. You can start conversations in all sorts of useful ways through social media and online business networks. That way you can network professionally without ever leaving your bed. Sorry, I meant without ever leaving your fully kitted out home office.