Updated: Dec 20, 2020
We have never been more connected. The super computer in our pockets gives us a real sense of being able to reach anyone at any time. Many of us (myself included) will accept LinkedIn requests with free abandon, but then have a network of hundreds of semantically linked strangers.
As a human being, we can't escape our evolutionary hard wiring. Anthropologist, Robin Dunbar has suggested our human brains have a cognitive limit to the number of people with whom we can maintain a stable social relationship. That number is just 150. This includes all of our friends, family and co-workers and that 150 people can quickly add up.
Of course the number of people we know and why we know them changes over time. As we move from job to job, our network shifts and adjusts to meet the demands of our new responsibilities. Connecting with new people to broaden our understanding of the world and the challenges we face in the workplace becomes ever more important.
In addition to giving us a sense of belonging, our network is essential for strategic thinking. Our work places are a small ecosystem of ideas and ways of doing things. If we only ever mix with people from our own organisation, we significantly narrow our ability to understand the market in which we operate. By linking up with people outside of our organisation and sector, we enhance our ability to understand context whilst also creating more opportunities for innovation and collaboration.
With all this in mind, knowing how to network in a meaningful way brings a huge benefit to each of us and yet it is often an opportunity missed or even dreaded. We've all been there... arriving at a conference / event and we're the sole representative from your organisation. That sinking feeling of isolation.
So, here are my top tips for networking like a pro!
Being authentically you helps people to form a meaningful connection. Pretending to be something you're not will make make for a very short lived connection. People naturally gravitate to the person who is genuine and human and people follow those who combine this authenticity with a sense of confidence and purpose which is communicated well. The best networking comes from genuine relationships, which doesn't mean running round collecting as many business cards as you can. Treat each new connection as you would a new potential friend. Find things that you have in common, be interested and show care for the other person.
Do your research
Find out in advance who will be attending. If there's someone you are particularly keen to meet with, get in touch with them in advance and arrange somewhere to meet. Do your research on the speakers so that you have some value add for the conversations that you have whilst there. Knowing your subject area is a great way for people to immediately see value in connecting with you. Be a resource to others!
Say 'hello'... quickly
You've just walked into a busy conference hall and there's small clusters of people drinking coffee and talking. There are some on their own nervously checking their phone. Be the person who goes to say hello and do it quickly! If you haven't chatted to someone in the first few minutes, there's a real danger you too will be checking your phone. Yes, it feels a bit awkward, but remember that person who came up to you at a conference whilst you were nervously checking your phone last time? Didn't you really appreciate that person putting themselves out there? Knowing that initial feeling of awkwardness will be rewarded with someone else's relief is motivation enough!
Don't stare over the shoulder of the person you're speaking with, be attentive. Properly listen to what they have to say and remember what they share. You never know when you're going to hear about something you can help with, or indeed an insight that might bring some new thinking for you.
Ask open questions and be curious
By listening attentively, open questions should come easier. Ask them about their job, what they hope to get from the day, which seminars they're attending, who they are keen to hear from. We're all very good at talking about ourselves and these questions should open up the conversation.
As you're learning about the challenges and needs of the person you're networking with, think about how you can help them. Could connecting them with someone else you know offer a new collaboration? Could sending the handouts from a training event you attended last week help give them new insight? Being altruistic is both good for you and for them!
The bubble of the conference is over, everything seems like a distant memory. It's easy to load everything that happened at the conference into a neat little box as you get back into the day job. The 'follow up' is however often the most important and most forgotten step. If you were going to send the person an introduction or handouts from a seminar, send them and suggest catching up for coffee. If there isn't an immediate way that you can think of to help them, just connect with them on LinkedIn and say it was nice to catch up with an open offer to connect again in the future. Try as best as you can to keep them in mind for the next few weeks. Hopefully, something will come up where you can help them. It can be as simple as sending them an article you've read that will interest them. It is this small act of kindness that will lay the foundations for what could be the best connection you ever made!
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. I'd love to hear about your tips for effective networking. Feel free to drop me a msg or leave a comment. I'm always on the hunt for new blog ideas, so if there's something you think I should write about, then send it over!