There is a business conference, event or function available to us for every week in the year. As I attended a recent Project Management Conference, it got me thinking on how I should approach the networking side of things … should I stick and chat with people I know … should I approach people ad-hoc and seek out the ‘win-win’ relationship …. or … should I target a specific individual(s) for a specific reason and leverage from that. I chose the second option of approaching people and initiating conversation to understand a potential win-win.
The next thing that struck me, is networking with people you already know giving you more benefit from networking with people you do not know. Let me ask the question, if you know the person and know what they can offer you (and vice-versa), is that really networking. To me, it is a cop out to say you are networking with people you know. When you know someone, this is is developing friendship and relationship but it is certainly not networking.
Networking is about creating a group of acquaintances and associates and keeping it active through regular communication for mutual benefit. Networking is based on the question “How can I help?” and not with “What can I get?” Based on familiar acquaintances, you will already know the answer to the question of “how can I help?”
When you network with people you know, chances are you’ll get unique advice specifically tailored to you. When you network try the following:
1. Make it personal:- Successful networking is a human process. The more personal you make it, the more invested they will be in your search. Ask about what they are doing, how they are getting on and be interested to develop this conversation to understand how you can contribute to what they are doing.
2. Honesty really is the best policy:- While this sounds pretty obvious, you’d be surprised how many people have trouble being open about what they need. Be genuine in what you are saying and how you are presenting yourself. Yes, we all like to boast about our achievements but don’t overstate your contributions but likely sprinkle it with the fact of how you got there.
3. Turn to those you don’t know:- The “right” person to network with might not be the most obvious. Turn to those that you may not be familiar with and invest time in getting to know who they are and what they are trying to achieve. There will always be a surprise value to this as you can never predict what the result with be.
4. It can be a two-way street:- Networking doesn’t have to be a one-way relationship. If you feel uncomfortable asking for a favour, just know there are plenty of ways to reciprocate it. If you are being referred forward, just know that you will get the chance or reciprocating this gesture in the future and openly show this.
Networking is not a natural process for a lot of us and it takes work, practice and requires you to be focused on what you want to get out of it. My primary goal in networking is to build my network and that requires me to develop new outlets. This will not be achieving by networking with the people I know. Most of us are particularly prone to feeling uncomfortable during networking events. To be effective when networking, you need relaxed conversations and some idle chitchat before you can deliver your elevator pitch.
Develop a game plan and put the people with whom you speak at ease. Don’t jump into your business immediately. Instead, find the common ground and talk about current events, the weather, what brought the person there, etc. From there, let the relationship take off!