Sunday, 8 January 2012

Why (and how) you need to learn to love networking

In my first PR job I used to have to go to networking events to try to make new business connections. At first I loathed them; I hated walking in to the room not knowing anyone and I hated the forced conversations. I knew I had to get over my fear and that if I forced myself to go to loads of them, I would get better each time. It worked. As I went to more, I became more comfortable and I can honestly say now I enjoy networking.

Networking is one of the most valuable professional skills, and if you're not a natural networker, it is one that is worth developing.

Over the years, through online and offline networking, I have been fortunate to make countless friendships that I really value, met incredibly intelligent and helpful people and learnt from loads of best practice. Networking helps you up the serendipity factor - you come across more people, projects and opportunities so you have more chance to encounter useful experiences.

Here's some tips I've picked up:

  • Don't hug the wall - it can be nervous walking in on your own but look for a friendly face and say hello.
  • If you've gone with people you already know, resist the temptation to only talk to them. Make the effort to meet new people and invite your friends to join in the conversation.
  • Smile.
  • Be genuinely interested in people - not for how they can help you. There's nothing worse than talking to someone who you can tell is trying to work out if you're worth speaking to.
  • Try to find some common ground. If you're at a conference, you can always ask what people have thought of the seminars or presentations as a good opener.
  • Swap business cards or contact details.
  • Don't dominate the conversation. Listen to what's being said and be enthusiastic about what they're saying.
  • Try to speak to as many people as possible, but give each one a good chunk of time. If the conversation is interesting and you feel a good connection with the person, let it flow.
  • Follow up afterwards with an email to say it was nice to meet you, a follow on Twitter or a LinkedIn connection request. 
  • Build the friendship - keep in touch after the event.


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