Networking questions – and answers

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Yesterday I spent some time with some of the incredibly inspiring Deloitte business women of the year candidates – lots of energy and talent and very open to discuss areas of strength and development.
One of the topics we covered was networking. People over-complicate networking. Simply, it’s just like building a friendship; it’s about engaging in a conversation on a topic of mutual interest.

Here’s six (common) questions, and my thoughts on each, that were asked:

Q. How do I start talking to people if I don’t know them?
A. Simply go up to a small group and introduce yourself and importantly ask a question rather than starting on a dialogue about you. Everyone has been in your situation and will accommodate you and engage you as part of the group. And if they don’t? It’s not about you – it’s about them; so don’t get discouraged and move onto the next.

Q. What do I do talk about to someone new?
A. It is about finding a topic of mutual interest. I will ask someone new a question about their company or their role. The key is to get them talking about themselves. But it shouldn’t just be all questions. The key is to balance questions with an insight or a point of view; expanding on a point they have raised to turn it into a conversation.

Q. How do I move on to the next person when you have been talking to someone for a while?
A. Dont say I’m going to the toilet or going to get a drink. Be honest – simply say “it’s been nice meeting and I’m going to talk to a few others in the room”. Or, suggest that you both go over and join another group. Everyone is in the same situation and they will appreciate your honesty and openness.

Q. How do you continue on to build a relationship?
A. You don’t create a relationship on the first date! It’s about weight of interaction so it is incredibly important to follow-up quickly with someone you have met. Drop them an email commenting on something you have discussed and ideally include a small article of piece of though leadership that relates to the topic. That will give you the basis in the next week or two to follow-up and suggest a catch up or coffee. Then, set yourself the task of at least one interaction (email, article, coffee, meeting , lunch, event invite) every month for six months. Do that, and you will have a relationship.

Q. What is important to become a good networker?
A. Have a strong personal brand. There are probably 100,000 professional advisers (accountants, consultants, lawyers etc) in this country. What is it that will make you stand out and be remembered? Then realise that networking is about great conversations and weight of interaction.

Q. What is important in terms of style and approach?
A. The most important thing is to be yourself; people spot it if you aren’t authentic. You have spent 10,000 hours perfecting your technical competency, so it’s unlikely you are going to be an expert networker on day 1. Test and learn – you will recover if things don’t go well and there are always more people to catch up with.

I know it’s difficult for most people to believe it , but, networking can be enjoyable.
Get out there and give it a go

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