The Art of Networking
Networking can be very tricky and difficult, and half the people do not enjoy it. However, it is high necessity in the business world, and especially for a think tank establishing their organisation is urgently needed in every part of it; to recruit authors, employees, funding, connections and to become successful in your mission. Therefore, the network combined their knowledge, where you can learn more on the art of networking, how to navigate networking events, as well as how to expand and nurture your network.
In this document, the main focus is on the basic techniques and tips required to successfully start networking, which is highly beneficial not just only during the initial founding phase, but also on-going.
*This video entails networking tips from our experts!
You want to start networking, but don't know where to go or how to start? A great tip is to first identify your interest in networking; is it to receive funding, get more visibility for yourself or your organisation, to get out specific information, present your new project/ idea, or to even test your idea. There are so many different purposes of networking, so it all depends on what you want. Then you can decide, where does it makes sense to see someone; bilaterally in a small event/ meeting or a place with a bigger stage like a conference, where you have the capability to present yourself/ organisation.
Moreover, networking has different forms, so you should first be clear what your purpose is and then fit the form to your personality. For example, maybe you are better in selling your product/ yourself in a small round, where you don't have to be put on the spot or make a speech or you prefer the bigger stage and audience, and have the ability to give good speeches. It is best to tailor your networking strategy to yourself!
True networking happens long before you even think about it. All the people you met in your life and are in contact with are already part of your network, maybe not professionally at the current moment. However, have the potential to become one. Everyone has their value, and having contacts with people from all different professions is very helpful, since in order to organise and establish your think tank, one needs a communication expert, a legal expert, a financier, and many more.
Therefore, you should be open in communicating and connecting with others who also share or have a passion. Meeting new people and enjoying other people in the long run can be highly beneficial. You never know how they might help you or you can help them with one day.
In the beginning, try to see who is already in your network and if you are able to help anyone or anyone can help you, whether it is with IT things, what events to attend, anyone they can introduce you to.
Go step by step about building your network. Once you have a set of contacts, see who your "critical few" or "inner circle" people are. They can be co-workers, mentors, customers, friends, simply someone who has helped you make valuable connections. Those contacts who have clearly contributed to your career and network.
If someone asked you to make a list of your most influential and professional contacts in your life right now, you should be able to say "they are". Those are the people who fully support you and your profession with different capabilities; such as politically, socially, economically, etc. Once you have pinpointed your inner circle, make sure to keep in regular contact with them, do not just simply send them a Christmas card every year. Stay in regular contact with them and follow up on them and their interests. After all, they also have the ability to introduce you to their network, which will ultimately leads to their network and hence increase your contacts and database.
Know and have different narratives when networking, since different people react and require different ways in order to connect with someone. For example, some people you need to meet 5 times at an event, until they finally agree to have lunch with you; while others after the first 10 minutes of your conversation want to meet up with you next week.
Moreover, your narratives also depend on your purpose. For instance, if you are looking for funding, you should have a catchy and simple pitch ready in like 1 min, since that is sometimes all you have. In this moment, since it can be very difficult to know what the other person is interested in and were they will bite. They could be interested in you as a person, in your title, or in your actual product/ organisation. Therefore, it is a great tip to have a variety of narratives and see what their reaction is, and what they pick up. Once you know, use that narrative and you will probably be successful.
Therefore, be FLEXIBLE! Try to understand their side, their interest and their personality, and fit your method and narrative to it. Plus, once you have your inner circle, and have a set of people you know, it eventually spills over and becomes much easier to connect with people.
An essential point to understand and know - networking is a two-way street. A networking relation is supposed to be beneficial to each person. Establish your value and see what you can offer the other party, not only what they could offer you. Generally, it is better to be more of the giving and generous person rather than the receiving party. You can’t establish your database with always expecting to receive something from every contact. Keep in mind before you ask for something, assure you've given them something too. Everybody has their value, it can be time, talent, or performance, still possibly the highest value in networking is information. So share it!
Social Media is playing a major part in growing and maintaining your contacts database. You should expand your network not just off-line but also online. It has become a given to be connected to the people we know or have met, through LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. However, you should take that advantage by continue sharing, commenting and writing to them personally, their posts, or your posts. Do not just keep them on your platforms with no communication, stay plugged in with your network and share your successes with them.
From a professional perspective, the optimal use of social media is to establish your brand and credibility with the persons you are connected with by contributing valuable information to your followers and connections. The building of your relationship or your credibility is still crucial to the process, no matter if you are discussing face-to-face networking or virtual networking. Remember, it is important to nurture your contacts more than it is to expand them; quality over quantity. You should establish the credibility of yourself and your organisation, which does not happen overnight.
The best way to start, if you are completely starting from scratch, is researching online. Check what events or conferences are going on in your city that might be any interest to you. See who the participants are, if you are interested to meet the specific people. Moreover, just ask your surrounding, your friends, people on your social media/ LinkedIn, if they can advise you specific events or places to go and expand your network. Often times you find or hear about good and interesting events coincidentally, just have your ears open!
It also depends on what you want and what your purpose is. For example, if you want to network for funding, you need to find and attend places were you are able to find funders either for your project or your organisation. A tip would be to attend more informal places like: like foundation yearly events, or during the lunch period in events/ conferences. It is better and easier to ask for and discuss about funds during informal meetings rather than large formal conferences with a lot of people around. So, always keep your purpose in mind!
The first tip with using your setting is to use your surroundings to start a conversation. For example, "The attendance seems much higher this year, how long have you been coming to these conferences?"; or you could further ask them where they flew from to attend it. You could also further comment on what is currently happening during the event, just be spontaneous!
Another trick is to stand next to the host of the event, considering that everybody is going to pass by them, as a result you are going to automatically meet all the people as well and hence create some visibility. Moreover, there is a high chance that the host then introduces you to people and specifically people who are interesting to you.
You can also use your setting, by going to the bar to get a coffee /drink or food, where the atmosphere is informal and relaxed, there one can easily start a small talk that can potentially develop in setting up a bilateral meeting for a different time or they can introduce you to someone else; and thus it continues.
To ask for advice is a great way to start a conversation and generally receive helpful information. For instance, if you are unsure who the speaker at the event is, ask someone for more information. Or in an unrelated manner, ask for a restaurant recommendation or an advise on a common interest. These sorts of questions is a great way to let a conversation flow in a natural and humane manner. It also allows to establish common interests. Moreover, it always is a gratifying and pleasant feeling to have your opinion requested.
It is always advantageous to attend these events with another person, if possible. It is more fun, comfortable, and they can then introduce you to people. Having someone introduce you, takes away the "cold" start you would have otherwise. They will be able to step in during a conversation and support you, making it lighter and easier. It can also warm you up when wanting to approach someone 'important' you want to connect with.
You don't have to do any homework before going to a event, but rather check the news or social media. See what are the current topics in politics, economy, or international affairs, even checking out gossip columns. Whatever floats your boat, and you believe is entertaining or/and fascinating. So, once you are at an event, you can start an easy and light conversation regarding interesting current events. Keith Ferrazzi , a so-called master networker and author, calls this "conversational currency, " as it permits conversation to flow. It is all about having a comfortable humanely conversation.
Many people dislike networking due to the generic small talk you have with dozens of strangers, always addressing the same topics and having repetitive conversations. No person expresses much and they tend to stay clear from controversial subjects. Even though it's not encouraged to incite an argument, it is encouraged to share your opinion. Actually, being confident enough to be authentic and honest with others, as well as allowing yourself to be a versatile and interesting person is far better and intriguing than the alternative. So, express and share yourself, as long as it is in a respectful manner (of course).
Successful networking and expanding your network sometimes does not require much talking, but actually listening. Learn to ask intriguing questions in order to get people to open up. People love talking about themselves, especially when they believe the other person is genuinely interested and listening. You only need to have minimal knowledge on a subject, to ask smart questions. People responses will allow you to ask more questions, and then you find yourself having an entire conversation, simply by encouraging them to talk.
Certainly, the questions you ask will make the difference. Open ended ones are optimal, starting with How and What, rather than closed ended ones, like Why or Do. For example, it's preferable to say “What keeps you busy these days?” rather than the more generic and ordinary “What do you do?” . The first question will induce someone to talk about their professional and possibly personal life, while the second will directly induce them into one straightforward answer.
It is a general advice to have your elevator pitch ready to explain your profession or professional goals, there are even classes taught regarding it. However, how many of these 'pitches' do you truly remember? It is far more engaging and interesting to have a 'normal' conversation with another person (that you would remember), then have someone tell you a clever statement that they obviously memorised in order to impress people. Yet, successful networking is about connections made on a humane basis, enough so in order to make people want to talk to you again. The conversation is supposed to surpass the event, in order to expand your network.
The most important factor in networking is just being friendly and making new friends. When going to any event or outing you can always be forging new friendships (hence a larger network). You should not separate professional networking with making new friends. Just communicate on a humane basis with people, and not just having the conversation so you can get something out of it. Simply talk and approach people, just like you would talk and approach a friend.
In conclusion, just be authentic and try to make a new friends. This automatically takes the stress out of the situation, thus allowing you to be yourself and eventually building stronger connections.
- Have a Goal - Ask yourself Why are you going? What do you hope to achieve in this Event? For instance, meet 1-2 new people, new job leads, or funding for your project. Be clear to yourself what you want or need, since just like in life if you know what you want, you can achieve it.
- Have a simple short pitch - Don't have a speech prepared on your organisation or an aggressive elevator pitch. However, know your value and the value of your organisation. Just simply prepare 2-3 sentences explaining what your organisation does, or what you do, or what you are looking for; depending on what your goal is for the event. Make it a casual pitch, you don't have to stick to your prepared sentences.
- Be Prepared - Try to get the list of participants in the events, since it can be practical knowing who is going to attend, so you can possibly decide who you want to approach, it is best to approach 2-3 people first. Often times its quality over quantity that pays out. You should also have some knowledge on current events in order to start and join a conversation on different topics, making it easier to connect with people.
- Make a successful Introduction - First impressions are key, so when you meet someone knew, introduce yourself by making eye contact, smile, state you name, and give a firm and short handshake. Then, listen attentively to the other person's name and use it twice during the conversation in order to say it correctly and to remember it. Moreover, make use one of the icebreakers when wanting to approach people.
- Listen First, then Speak- Let the other person(s) speak first! Because unknowingly, the person who talks about themselves initially usually has half the attention. Since the person on the other end will be too distracted in thinking what they have to say once its their turn. Thus, by asking the other person questions first, and listening attentively, the other person becomes more relaxed and attentive when the conversation turns to you. Moreover, people tend to like and enjoy the conversation with a person who is sympathetic and a good listener much rather than an aggressive talker.
- Show Sincerity and Interest - Ask some interesting and curious questions. Ask the person about their background and work, show your interest in the person not merely in yourself and your work. The best questions cannot be answered with a simple yes or no. Moreover, make follow-up questions to their answers in order to show your sincerity and your attentiveness.
- Connect at a Human Level - Many people say this is the best advice they can give when it comes to networking. People do not want to feel used, or merely talked to for a purpose. We want to connect on a human level and make new connections. Therefore, communicate with people as if you want to be friends with them, do not make it a robotic conversation. Just let the conversation be natural and flowing. Remember you are having a conversation with another human who has feelings to, and is biased. That is why you should connect with them on a personal base as well, you can for instance start by sharing something about yourself that is not generic.
- Follow up & Follow through - Send follow-up emails after the event to anyone you met that you would like to continue networking with. Always personalise each email, to let them know you enjoyed meeting them and mentioning something that you talked about. For example, you can suggest in the email to meet up for an informational exchange, or for a simple coffee. Another way is to go to the places or event you will think your “ideal” or “interested” contact will be, as personal contact is always better and makes it easier to communicate and build a connection. Moreover, follow through, if you told someone you will get in touch with them, DO SO! and reaffirm intent as well.
A good rule of thumb is always follow up with an email or a phone call within 48 hours of meeting them, but don't wait longer than a week. Keep in mind the 4 UPS: Read Up! Show Up! Listen UP and FOLLOW UP!
We connect with so many people virtually and physically all the time, it is hard to keep track of everyone. Once in a while do some network housekeeping and reach out to the contacts you lost touch with or do not remember what they do exactly. Sometimes losing touch is inevitable, yet you can always contact them and show your interest in what is current with them.
Moreover, you could write an email right away after meeting them stating who you are, simply re-introducing yourself after an event is always positive.
Now a days, it is easy to remember and view the important moments in other peoples lives with all the platforms we have available. You probably have all your contacts on Facebook and LinkedIn, where you can daily know whose birthday it is and send them best wishes, with an email, phone call, or even a birthday card.
Moreover, there are other occasions to reach out, such as a promotion, change in profession, and anniversary. Where you can send a congratulatory message or phone call and ask about the change or event. Make usage of the occasion to catch up on other matters and add an update on your own situation.
Even when there is no specific reason to reach out to a contact, you still can and should. Just check-in with them, by sending a small note or calling them to see how they are doing. By doing so, you are refreshing their memory of you and providing a window for an update on the both of your professional situations. Where you could also show your appreciation for having them in your professional network.
Try to meet local contacts annually for a dinner, coffee, or invite them to an event. A great method is to merge your network with your ongoing schedule, for instance, invite them to an event or workshop you are attending, offer a ticket to a football game, or a coffee date with an interesting person they would like, just send an invite. You should not expect them to accept, but your invitation already makes an impression.
For connections abroad, this may not be possible. Yet when you are travelling, you can reach out to your contacts in that city and see if they are available. Ask them to show you the city, or grab a coffee and if the time does not permit, ask for a dinner or bar recommendation. In the worst case, if you do not have time to meet them, send them an email to say that you don't have time on this trip, but you thought of them and wanted to check in.
When you hear something interesting that can help the right people in your network, let them know. Not just employments and references but also speaking opportunities, special projects, board positions, and writing assignments. Provide them with an offer and an introduction, because chances are, a number of your contacts could also help each other out if they only knew each other. If you feel hat an introduction would be beneficial to both parties, and they have both agreed to meet, set it up!
The connection can be positive for all parties involved. Because you’re also getting an opportunity to help both of your contacts and nurture both relationships simultaneously. You’ll also find generally that this results in both parties asking each other how they know you, and then singing your praises. This continues to cement your status as someone on whom people can rely and go to for help. Moreover, it keeps your network alive and ongoing.
Your contacts are in your network for a reason, so remember to take advantage of their knowledge and experience. While taking care not to contact people too much, reach out when you have a need and you know your contact will be able to assist. Inquire about other matters during the exchange and thank your contact for helping out. For example, ask them for employee recommendations, since building a think tank is about building a good team.
I’ll often think of a handful of people who should know each other, but haven’t met (or in some cases, haven’t connected in a while). A great way to get these folks together efficiently and effectively is to host a casual gathering where they can all interact. They win by meeting, and you win by connecting them and meeting with them all at once, an opportunity to stay in touch and interact with your contacts.
Expanding your network takes time and does not happen over time. It takes a lot of work, time, and a little luck. Don't be too aggressive and bombard the person you want to connect with, give it space and time to flourish. Anyway, most contacts do not go away, after sending emails back and forth, they will generally always remember who you are. If they don't, they can go back to your email history or check social media to recall who you are.
Furthermore, as with any habit, it takes time and intention to make these practices feel natural. Consider choosing one method a month and trying it out. If you enjoy it, keep doing it, and then add another. If not, let that one go and give a different method a try. Also, it’s helpful to remember that not all relationships will click, nor will you want to nurture them all. You get to choose!