The Underestimated Power of Networking: A beginners Guide — Part One

Although not exhaustive, this is an extensive three part series that should hold something for the beginner and experienced networker.

Grab a coffee or tea and sit down for a good read of part one!

How many times have you heard the expression… “It’s not what you know it’s who you know?”

Whilst you have to know something, I am sure you have all seen or at least heard of someone leaping frogging through their career above others who have “more talent”.

How can this be?

Well, believe it or not…it is talent!

However, it’s not technical skills, it’s soft skills — specifically, the art of networking and building relationships.

I believe this art is so underestimated in business. In particular, those building a career dismiss it as an unworthy investment of time and energy. And this is completely understandable! The connection between the initial effort and long-term reward is hard to see.

Some come to realise the importance of networking late in their careers and rush to skill themselves up in order to recover the lost ground but to supercharge your career path you need to start as early as possible. However, no matter at what point in your career you are there is no time like the present to start.

A Networkers Guide Map

Now, rather than jumping in and giving you the old “here’s my top tips” I thought it would be much more useful to give you a framework, or what I like to call a map to guide you through the entire process and give you some confidence to act now.

Once you’ve gone through this map once, it’s just a matter of rinse and repeat!…

I want to highlight there is no one right way but this should be an effective way to get started. By the end of this post you should have a skeleton with some meat and anywhere I may have missed some details or you think it needs tweaking, I believe you will know enough to find what that is and fill it in for yourself.

The process is broken into three parts and it’s as easy as ABC!

A. Pre-networking preparation

B. Networking opportunity*

C. Post-networking tasks & follow-ups

* Note the word ‘opportunity’ has been chosen as this captures both formal networking events and informal opportunities that may arise or you create yourself. Like bumping into someone in the street and being introduced to a colleague — most of the same concepts apply.

You might ask “why is there pre-networking preparation, don’t you just get out there?” I suggest if networking is new to you or you’re a bit rusty then the pre-networking preparation will help you get your feet especially if you are nervous (I know I used to be!). And for those a little more advanced you still should find a little nugget to include in your arsenal!

Now for each part above I will outline:
• the major objectives; and
• then a bunch of steps and tips.

These are designed to make the process clear, help you prepare, execute and maximise your return from networking.

In this article (part 1), we will look at ‘Pre-Networking Preparation’.

A. Pre-Networking Preparation

Objectives:

• For each networking opportunity set a specific and clear networking objective;

• Have a clear strategy to achieve your objective; and

• Prepare yourself through mental exercises (to ease nerves and increase success)

Steps & Tips

1. Define Your Result In Advance — This is a given! You will be a much more effective networker if you’ve defined the result you’re after. This will give you focus during the event and make it easier for you to prepare exactly what you need. Your objective can be broad or narrow, ambitious or just dipping your toes into the water. A couple of examples:

  • Simple/Beginner — Spend 20 minutes at the networking event and meet two new people.
  • Intermediate — Meet five potential new client contacts at industry networking event (use name tags to target specific companies).
  • Advanced — Gain an introduction to the network sponsor CEO through established network contact and begin a strategic relationship.

2. Don’t Put Pressure On Yourself When Starting Out — If you’re new to networking be kind to yourself and take the time to learn. You don’t have to put pressure on yourself to meet a lot of people the first time around. You may even consider setting a small objective and not even stay the whole event. Remember one quality connection is better than 20 superficial ones where no-one remembers you the next day.

3. Prepare Questions For Conversation — It always good to have some questions prepared especially when you are new to networking or likely to be nervous. As you become a master networker you may find less and less the need to do this, however it pays to practice and refine this skill. You can start with just 3 or 4 open-ended questions to begin conversations. It may also be helpful to write them down on a card or type them directly into your phone so you can practice and memorise them beforehand. If you go blank when networking, you can always excuse yourself to the bathroom for a question refresh!

4. Don’t Ask “What do you do?” — This is a standard question that is often used to open a conversation, however, this is for the lazy networker! Asking this narrows the conversation from the outset, makes it bring and you less memorable. The person has probably been asked this question twenty times already. Remember, you want to create a meaningful connection and there’s so many different ways to open. For beginners you can start with “what brings you to this event?”. An open question like this can help identify a purpose or interest, may give you a topic for discussion and can help you decided if you can add value to each other.

5. Elevator Pitch — In order to become more effective at networking, you must first have a clear understanding of what you do that you can easily articulate to others. An elevator pitch is a short summary used to quickly and simply tell people who you are and what you’re about and is an effective way for people to understand the essentials about you. Check out Scott Dinsmore’s site — Live Your Legend — for a great article on ‘creating your elevator pitch’. As you become an experienced networker practice different versions of your elevator pitch to test what works best.

6. Prepare To Be Memorable — You should aim to attract people by being visible. Firstly, you need to wear nice clothes that adhere to the dress code of the event and look professional. Secondly, why not add something to your outfit that makes you standout such as carrying a unique, vintage notebook, wearing an outstanding tie that speaks character or even a lapel pin which can be a conversation starter. These little additions will draw people to you and give them something to remember you by.

7. Business Cards — While not essential they certainly help to swap information effortlessly so you can focus on the conversation and building comfort. Grab your business cards before leaving for an event. Place them in the breast pocket of your coat, a shirt pocket, or in an outside pocket of your handbag so they are easy to access and in good condition. Personally, I have a system where I keep my business cards in my right jacket pocket and put ones I receive into my left — this way I’m never fumbling around.

8. Deepen Your Network Pool — The more similar someone is to you, the more comfortable it feels to connect, which is why networks are, by nature, homogenous but diversity is key to growing a strong personal network. Seek relationships with totally different people who can introduce you to brand-new social clusters. It’s adding diversity to your network that truly helps it. The reason is, every time you add an additional person that’s similar to you, you’re not expanding your network very much because it’s highly likely you know all the same people.

9. Ask For A Strategic Introduction — If there’s a specific person you’re hoping to connect with, do some Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn sleuthing to see if you have a contact who knows that individual directly. This is where your phone is extremely handy, you can do this real time at the event. Just be discreet! Explain your game plan to your contact — you’re a huge fan of the company and would love to build a strategic relationship with such-and-such key player — and then ask if the person might be able to introduce you at an upcoming networking event. Third party introductions add credibility and the person is more likely to trust that you’re worth their time.

10. Manage Expectations

a. Don’t Be Afraid Of Making A Fool Of Yourself — If you’re serious about making a name for yourself, you’ll need to be willing to embarrass yourself in front of powerful people. Realise that before heading off to a networking event there are going to be times when you’re not going to appear as funny or impressive as you’d like, but as with anything else, you should make note of how your social interactions failed and improve the next time. Remember that the Richard Bransons of the world experience great success only because they are willing to put themselves out there and not only expose themselves to opportunity but embarrassment too — it’s par of the course.

b. Understand That Not Everyone Will Like You, And That’s OK — Realise that there’s a percentage of the population that no matter what you do or say, they’re just not going to like you, and it’s beyond your control. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work on yourself and learn how to make people more comfortable, but at a certain point you need to ask yourself what are you trying to accomplish? If it turns out that a network contact doesn’t like your personality even when you’re at your best, then simply move on and spend time with someone else.

11. Mental Preparation

a. Establish The Mindset Of A Networker — Just before the event give yourself a few minutes to tap into the right mindset. To do this, focus on the result you want to achieve. You are going out there to connect with new people. You want to leave those new people with a good, lasting impression. You are also going out there to find people who can help you and people you can help. Have an open mind and show a genuine interest in the people you meet.

b. Mind Rehearsal (Visualisation) — Top athletes spend as much time in mental preparation as they do physical preparation. Sports psychologists agree mental preparation is what gives top athletes the edge as it allows them to focus under pressure. Visualisation allows you to play out situations many times over in safety and helps calm nerves. The reason lies in psychology. Your brain can’t tell the difference between a real and imagined situation. When it’s “game time” you will find yourself more relaxed since your brain thinks its done this before. So, find a quiet space, close your eyes and spend time before the event visualising what you will do when you are there, the kinds of conversations you will have and the connections you will make. If you think you will be nervous or you’re beginner you may choose to do this a couple of times before the event and for longer time compared to an advanced networker that may only spend a few minutes.

Stayed tuned for part two of this series next week, where we will look at the ‘Networking Opportunity’.

How do you do to prepare for a networking event?
Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Original post at: andrewwalsh.co/theblog/networking-beginners-guide-p1/

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