Now is the season of goodwill and networking opportunities
If your December diary is stuffed like a Christmas turkey, you have a choice to make. Either you can wrap tinsel round your ear, and get drunk with the crowd, or you can choose to network with purpose. I believe in the value of building, and looking after a strong professional network. Good networks are the gateway to opportunities to learn, grow and be happy. Need advice? Need a facilitator? Need a venue? You need a network.
When I talk about the importance of networking, I hear the same objections.
I’m not good at networking
That is a cop-out. Everyone has charm, and everyone can network. To be honest, I am not always in the mood for networking, myself. Like the other night when a lady sat next to me at the theatre, and told me all about her interview with some magazine. “They loved me!” she said. Well, obviously, I was very happy for her, but that’s not networking. That’s broadcasting.
I don’t know what to say
You need to have an opening line. One of my friends swears by ‘I like your shoes’. I just say, ‘Where are you from?’ Then I relax, and listen. Don’t expect to make a good connection at every event. But when you do, make sure you drop them an email the next day. A follow-up email is the equivalent of a friendly wave and it means nothing. Don’t be pushy. At the same time, once you have their email, you can contact them again.
I don’t need to network
Yes, you do. In this hyper connected world everyone needs to be seen to network. You need an online presence, too, so people can check you are a real person. Keep your LinkedIn profile up to date. No-one exists today without an online profile.
What skills and knowledge are needed to be a good networker?
Good networkers have a genuine interest in other people, and are good listeners. Nelson Mandela knew how to make friends and influence people. One of the stories I read about him recently was how he won over some retired generals who were plotting a guerrilla war by making them all a nice cup of tea. Mandela won respect by giving it to others. Between now and Christmas, you can win over people by making sure they feel heard, and, possibly, making sure their glass is full of mulled wine.
Grey hair is no excuse for wearing a grey suit
Walking into a room full of men in grey suits still makes me uncomfortable, even though I am a grey haired man who sometimes wears a suit. Wear something that makes you stand out from the crowd, and look like you want to be in the room. Be decisive, go up to someone, and introduce yourself.
You have to work to make your network work for you
Here are some tips for how to engage and win people over:
- Step out of your comfort zone. Talk to strangers, and resist the temptation to talk to the people you know.
- Notice who is in the room and go and choose someone to interact with. People will not come and speak to you if you are standing hesitantly at the edge of the room.
- Turn off your phone and put it away. If you need to hold something, get a drink. Even better, grab a bottle of wine and start to circulate.
- Never make assumptions about the person standing next to you. You don’t know who they are, and you don’t know whom they know.
- Take a lesson from Stephen Covey and listen empathetically. Give the people you meet a large dose of unconditional positive regard. Encourage them to tell you about themselves.
- Then, and only then, you can reciprocate with a brief account of who you are, and what you do. Reciprocation, as Robert B Cialdini has taught us, is a weapon of influence.
- Remember to smile. Flirting is good provided the person to whom you are speaking is not wearing a wedding ring.
- Talk about what motivates or excites you. Passion and enthusiasm are infectious and engaging.
- Follow through. 48 hours is the maximum time you can wait to send an email saying how much you enjoyed meeting someone. Even if you didn’t.
- Keep your connections warm, if necessary using social networks like LinkedIn and Facebook. Tell people what you are doing, share relevant reports, and invite people to events.
- People who are good at networking are successful because they are curious, and curiosity is the driver of innovation and creativity. The better your network, the easier it becomes to get things done.
- Now is the season of office parties, talks and events. Put yourself about, go on the razzle. But network with purpose…