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Six Steps To Networking Success

Greystone’s Christopher Barrat shows how to get the most from a networking session
 

‘To network’ is a verb that has changed its common meaning rather dramatically over the last 20 years. Once it was never used outside of British Telecom or your IT department; nowadays it’s now a key tool in commercial parlance.

Networking is a critical skill in the modern business environment. The good news is that it is a skill the true sense of the word – something that you can learn, and with practice, become good at.
This article sets out six practical steps that you can take, and which will transform your approach to networking and your level of success with it. Beginning with the decision as to which meetings to go to in the first place, it will go on to look at the practicalities of working the room when you arrive; meeting and greeting; getting the right impression across; ‘getting rid’ of people when you want to move on; and following up those you want to see again.


Decisions, Decisions
We are all faced with a plethora of invitations to seminars and events, and it can be hard to choose which to go to. The first pitfall is that many people look at an event and think: ‘I am not really interested in that topic’. In reality it doesn’t matter what the topic is – the key question is who will be there?

Let me put it like this. You might not find a seminar on ‘The legal implications of HR legislation on the workplace’ very fascinating, and yet you know that it will be attended by key HR professionals – and if they are your networking target then you need to be there.

In summary, think more of the context of the event than the content, and always remember: if you don’t go, then you won’t know who you missed.


Working the Room
Having arrived at the event, it can be daunting to enter a room full of people and have to approach someone. Interestingly every large gathering divides down into specific social units – Singles, pairs and threes or more. Likewise these groups are either ‘open’ or ‘closed’.

Let me explain that. If the groups are open, then the pair (or group) will be standing beside each other with an open ‘berth’ for you to join. If they are closed, then they will be facing inwards towards each other – a clear social sign that they don’t want to be disturbed.

Singles are the most likely to talk to you, although you may get stuck with them, so the best group to pick is an ‘open pair’. This group gives you the option of two people to talk to, and it is not so big that conversation becomes stilted.


Getting To Know You
The key to making greeting people is to remember that they download a lot of information about you in the first few seconds – as do you about them. There is much that’s been written about body language in these circumstances – more important than this, however, is your mental condition. So approach any new contact with the attitude that they could be great for you, or that they may know someone else who is. If your mental attitude is right, then your body language will naturally follow.


Don’t Pitch
Creating the right impression is quite easy once you realise networking is not about selling – you will turn people off if you try to pitch to them. People who are perceived to be selling are very likely to come across as pushy, and to force the pace of the process. Whereas networking is about creating sustainable relationships over time. The very best ones involve considerable up-front investment.

Great networkers help others first, and then find they are often getting things in return that are very useful. So work on being interested in someone, before being ‘interesting’ in your own right. The more you can focus on them and their needs, the more they’re likely to like you, and the more you will learn about how you could benefit from knowing them.

When the time does come to ask for something back from your network, think strategically, and look for oblique rather than direct support.


Moving On
We’ve all been in a situation where the conversation has run its course, and where we are thinking about how we can move on and find someone else?

If you are in a group of three, this is easy because you can simply excuse yourself. If you are in a two, however, then invite them to come with you to get a coffee or a drink. If they are ready to move on, then this makes it easy for them to decline.

If you do find yourself with a ‘Klingon’ and they come with you, then the coffee point is an excellent place to find another person to join you. So invite someone else into the conversation. Now you are a threesome, and you can more easily depart after a minute or two. In today’s environment it is also now socially acceptable to simply say ‘lovely talking to you, I would like to do a bit more networking so do you mind if I circulate?’


Following Through
Not following up a good contact is the biggest networking sin. There are two basic rules here. First, be specific in targeting those who you really believe could be useful. Second, be persistent without being pestering. People are busy, remember, and they may not be able to return your call quickly.

If you are leaving messages, then you can do this at least four times before moving on to another contact. Provided you have created the right impression, you can be confident that if a relevant opportunity comes up even after a long break in contact, they may well think of you.


Be Different
Every business tries to distinguish itself from others; to have some unique differentiator. The only truly unique factor of any business is its people, and networking is the best way to show off this property. Learning the skills and then getting out there to practice them is a critical tactic to employ in becoming a successful business.


Six Steps to Success
1. When choosing events for networking think context not content – who is going to be there?
2. Work the room by dividing it into social groups, and pick an ‘open pair’ to approach
3. Always keep your mind open to others being great for you – that will keep your body-language positive
4. Never try and sell to them, and be interested in them before being interesting yourself.
5. If you need to move on from a conversation you can make it happen, remember they might be thinking that too
6. Always follow up your key targets, be persistent without being pestering.

Christopher Barrat is a director of the Greystone management consultancy

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