A networking post by Matthew Hill
Your supposedly safe job is suddenly, after 4 years, GONE. You are forced to scramble around contacting people who can help you. The problem is your business card collection is dusty and neglected. It sits there decidedly unloved.
Are you “culturally modest”? You would rather drink vinegar than network, have a fingernail extracted rather than follow up on a light conversation or have dental work performed without anaesthetic rather than ask a favour of an acquaintance.
With thanks to Cecilia Lui and a wonderful evening at SIETAR UK, here are some ideas that can reverse the average introvert’s chances of attaining a networking breakthrough.
Give First – Stephen Covey describes it as putting pennies in the trust bank account before you make a large withdrawal i.e. a request for help. So what can you give?
By becoming aware of the treasure in your small existing network you will uncover connections and resources that, whilst they are not useful to you directly, can be invaluable as a gift to someone you meet tomorrow.
It is about becoming aware of the hidden riches of your existing contact base.
Be Helpful – many people walk into an event determined to give their elevator pitch to as many people as possible and to come away with a signed business contract. STOP – there is a better way.
Gently inquire as to the recent success and activity of the stranger in front of you. This will relax them, open up a conversation and will give you the chance to assess their longer-term value for you.
People love talking about themselves so give them the opportunity and start putting pennies in their trust bank account. The downside of this, if you are a people pleaser, is that you may spend all night listening to long and involved stories whilst entertaining suicidal thoughts and feelings of bitter regret…
For you the next point is essential.
Plan your escape – when you establish rapport, exchange basic contact details and have a measure of the person, it may be time to move on. Don’t feel obliged to spend all evening with somebody, unless of course they are likely to become your new best friend or you’re getting on terrifically well and they happen to be of special value to you.
Escape phrases include;
- It’s been lovely chatting to you. Now we should both go and “work the room.”
- Thank you. I’m now going to talk to that person over there.
- Do excuse me. I have to go now.
These phrases require a healthy balance of power and politeness and need to be practised so as not to come across as strained or false. Maybe it’s time to get the mirror out and launch a dramatic rehearsal session before the next mixer event.
Know what you want – the game is not to accumulate 30 business cards in an evening without engaging, exchanging or emoting. Better to have one or two profound moments than to be able to send a dozen e-mails knowing that they will not be responded to.
If you know what you want and you know what you need (and you know what you can give – see above) then you can analyse any conversation and see if it is taking you towards something useful.
People like people who know what they want. Again it is that balance of power and politeness that is attractive in a networking situation.
Do you understand your purpose? Have you found your professional calling? Do you know what a good outcome would be at the end of the year or next year? It is this reflection and analysis that can make you a more focused and interesting person.
Small talk – Small talk isn’t small. The function of small talk is to find an island of commonality that becomes a base for dialogue. If you are reluctant you may need to practice, practice and practice some more. Become the King or Queen of small talk. Do it at family events, in the canteen or when invited to your next wedding.
Ask for something – the test of the depth and value of your database is to make a request, either for yourself or on behalf of somebody else. If you have 500 business cards, send out e-mails and don’t get any replies that is a brutal and negative assessment of your networking depth.
Help yourself by sending out keep in touch e-mails that act as a reminder of your value and a deepener of relationships. Just a couple of ping e-mails over a 90 day period will have the magical effect of turning a stranger into a relatively warm acquaintance who will be more open to helping you. And remember do this before you NEEEEEEED their help.
Personal power – people like people like us so matching the power level and the body language of somebody else can be a very useful way of breaking down barriers and getting that first minute of contact to be positive rather than negative.
How can you practice raising your power? You might straighten your posture, open your arms or make eye contact for one or two seconds. How about taking singing lessons to give your voice an extra layer of beauty?
Another great practice is to set yourself confidence boosting mini quests – complaining in a restaurant, returning goods to a shop or simply asking for directions from a stranger in the street. All this practice will build up your networking muscles and enable the process to be less daunting and more achievable.
89:10:1 – this is the ratio in our society between the people who are passive receivers of conversation and the people who are open to respond in a relatively dynamic way and, finally, the people who are deliberate, determined and super focused in making networking a pleasant and effective activity that will lead them towards their goals by giving, helping, building trust and friendships and asking for the things that will take them to where they want to go.
So, for now, let’s keep it simple – ask yourself one question, “WHAT DO YOU WANT?”
Matthew Hill is a culture and soft-skill trainer working mainly in Europe.