For many, networking is a daunting prospect, especially for younger professionals like me, finding their feet in the construction industry. However, networking is an unavoidable key skill if you want to build new relationships, strengthen industry knowledge, and raise yours and your employer’s profile amongst like-minded peers. So, what’s the least painful way to do it?
Prior to a networking opportunity
Sure, a social event in a relaxed atmosphere along with a drink in hand is a great way to spend your time networking, but is it worthwhile? I have a duty to make my networking accountable, not just for my employer, but for me. Do I need to attend the event? How am I going to benefit?
Registering for an event and attending is a minimum requirement, all too often seen as the only requirement. I have found that preparation greatly enhances my networking. What could I do to maximise the potential networking opportunities at the event? The key concept is to develop a strategy.
Strategically, both participating and networking at events needs to be consistent with my personal business objectives. By researching those attending, identifying key figures to network with and getting up-to-date on key discussions that are likely to be raised at the event, I am improving the efficiency of my networking. Targeting key stakeholders attending events means I can prepare to talk to them or use my personal network to introduce a connection to them, so that all mutually benefit.
Using this strategy can help to plan further networking, determining who can open doors in my network or help introduce new connections.
Also, developing an elevator pitch that is relevant to the event and linked to my business profile, is a simple process but another fantastic way of introducing myself to someone new and promoting key points. Having a rehearsed introduction along with an understanding of the likely subject matter being raised at the event, is a nice safety blanket to fall back on should your confidence be lacking for initial group interaction.
At the networking opportunity
Arriving early to an event is a great strategy, should you find it difficult to begin a conversation with someone new. Since most people find walking into a room full of strangers uncomfortable, being there on their arrival will often lead to them turning to you for support throughout the event.
Introducing myself and developing my network is perhaps the most difficult part. Over the years I have made a conscientious effort to develop my face-to-face networking and find it reassuring that people are there for the same reason - to network – and have the same pains when doing it.
Given the reactive and uncontrolled environment at an event, I make the most of my preparation to enhance my networking opportunities and connect with key individuals. The following key pointers help me during the event:
- Introducing myself to groups of three (so that if people pair off in conversation I will not be stood alone) or connecting with someone if I see that they are on their own,
- Engaging with others using ‘open’ questions rather than ‘closed’ ones. Not only do open questions
- help to build a rapport with someone, they are likely to lead to further discussion - someone else is doing the talking rather than you!
- Being “present” when I am with someone (in mind not just body) i.e. not looking at my phone,
- Talking with enthusiasm in my discussion (as it is infectious),
- Identifying opportunities to collaborate,
- Proactively approaching new connections rather than staying in my comfort zone in discussion with familiar contacts.
Recognising when to close conversation to make the most of my time at the event is just as important as the introductions and a great skill to have. Perhaps the conversation is no longer relatable, the connection you were wishing to network with has gone elsewhere, or you feel as though the connections have been established. Exchanging contact details and leaving on a positive note is vital, especially after the event.
After the networking opportunity
Afterwards, following up the initial contact is essential. Building a network requires patience. In the short term I must meet and greet new people to build my network; next, I need to develop the relationship and build my reputation. How?
Initially, I must be willing to offer more than I receive in order to develop relationships, such as giving people my time, bringing people together, offering feedback (and taking it when it is offered) but not to expect anything in return. This in turn builds both trust and a good rapport through collaboration, which is likely to lead to the receiver returning the favour in the future.
Following-up creates more permanent connections and leaves a lasting impression beyond a brief chat at a networking event. It is the key to cementing the connection. Perhaps send an email, link on social media (e.g. LinkedIn) or give them a call; suggest another event to go to together or offer to help with something, such as engaging with one of your connections. This helps develop trust; once the connection trusts you, they will likely offer to build your network further too.
Networking is an investment. Preparation beforehand, in conversation during and following up afterwards. Building your network takes time, effort and patience. Following simple guidelines should help, but the key is a willingness to attend and engage, as the old adage goes, practice makes perfect!