As part of a new network I have joined (Future Faces in Birmingham) I was invited to an event this evening on ‘How to network effectively’. As networking is one of my areas of focus for my CILIP Chartership and an important element of my job, I was really keen to attend.

I’m not sure what I was expecting but it was a mixed experience. Some was very common sense, other bits were really useful as they addressed areas I struggle with. The networking afterwards however, well I’m not so sure. I guess I just have to accept that I’m well outside my comfort zone and that corporate networking events are likely to attract a certain type of person.

The workshop

The speaker, Vinay Parmar, has utilised networking to generate business and now speaks on the topic to share tips with others.

His approach was interactive in nature which I enjoyed, though the room wasn’t really set up for it and we were up and down from our seats like a yo yo! I lucked out and sat next to some fascinating people which made the exercises a lot more fun.

Rather than share everything from the session I’ll just share the main networking tips to help in the business networking situation (e.g. conference socials).

  • Define your aims and objectives for networking to help you determine which networking events to attend
  • When networking, smile first and foremost
  • Good topic starters for small talk include family and friends, occupation, recreation and money (remember with acronym FORM)
  • Don’t ask people how they are as you may not be interested in the answer
  • Ask people about their current projects/products/services to identify problems you may be able to help with
  • If people are already in groups, you can ask them if you can join them. Hang around close to the group and make eye contact with someone, then smile, then try to join. Can also leave a group when someone new is introduced – introduce them to each other and then say you’ll be back later
  • If someone is rambling, just ask them “So what happened in the end?” to get to the conclusion of story
  • Being a good networker means being a good listener
  • Only offer business cards if you want to connect with someone in future
  • If you tend to forget people’s names, repeat it to yourself in your head or use word association to remember
  • If you want to leave a conversation, stop mimicking their body language (I.e. do the opposite of what they are doing)
  • Remember that networking isn’t a sales pitch – it is about getting permission to follow up
  • Add value to connections by sending relevant links and information – it’s all about following up

The networking

Having networking directly after a session on networking was extremely interesting. Naturally, some people were trying out new techniques but because we’d all learnt them it was pretty obvious! There were also some people who were quite shameless in their networking and I really felt sorry for some of the people who worked for the larger corporations as they were the target of many of the networkers, even though they may not have anything to do with the area the person was looking to sell to. I also think some people really forgot all about the fact that networking isn’t about a sales pitch – it’s about meeting new people, understanding more about them, and beginning to build a connection. If it’s beneficial for both parties it may result in future business but you have to build up that trust first and I saw some really bad examples this evening.

However, there were also some really great people there and it was inspiring to talk to them and watch them in action. One person in particular really impressed me – I know a bit about the work they do and vice versa, and they were willing to chat to me to find out why I was there and give me tips. I hope we can keep in touch – there might not be any immediate business potential there for either of us, but who knows what connections it could lead to in future. I’m much more comfortable with this sort of networking – learning about people so that you can help each other in future and pass on useful information or put them in touch with others.

So what?

I found the event really interesting – the tips in the workshop were useful but participating in the networking afterwards (and observing others) was where I found the most value.

It made me really appreciate the nature of online networking – particularly the fact that you can choose more easily which conversations to join in with (and duck out of!), which I find really tricky in person.

It also made me realise that my network on Twitter is really beneficial – I already knew this but a few points reaffirmed that for me. One thing in particular was a point the speaker made about a ‘peer group’, a deliberate group of people to keep you performing to your highest level. These are the people who inspire you and encourage you to pick yourself up and keep trying when things aren’t going so well (as opposed to friends who give you a hug and a shoulder to cry on). This level of support and inspiration is one of the things I love about my Twitter network.

What next?

Although I found some of the tips and networking tactics too intense (and a bit creepy at times!), I did pick up some useful tips which I hope will help me in future, particularly around joining and leaving group conversations. I’m sure this will help me in conference social occasions and I’m looking forward to putting it into practice, particularly at ALA Annual Conference in June.

The session also reminded me that I need to sort out some business cards from work – I have my personal ones but not work ones so I’ll see if I can get some ordered. One interesting idea I might consider in future with business cards is leaving a space for notes on the card (so people can make notes about you or the conversation you had) – I tend to write on cards I receive but hadn’t thought about designing cards with space to write notes.

I’m attending another training session on networking soon – hopefully I won’t be so wary entering a room full of groups of people soon! Do you have any other networking tips to share? Please let me know in the comments if so.

  • What interesting reading this made – thank you so much for sharing. I find it very challenging to network – more so perhaps because I work in a sector which doesn’t have many similar counterparts. So every time I go to a conference or workshop I meet new people who generally know other people and have already formed groups. It’s so hard to join in especially if you don’t have too many similarities. So the very practical suggestions are very useful.

  • Sarah Wolfenden

    Hi, like your point about having a group who keep you going and working at your best – i also find twitter is very good for this. Occasionally makes me feel guilty too!

    • Yes, I know what you mean Sarah – it can have that effect too but acting as a motivator is a definitely good thing 🙂