We all have a purpose in this world, and purpose at any level generally involves making a change.
However, making a change requires support from, and collaboration with, others to ensure that it has the most substantial impact.
While your reasons to network may be personal, professionally we all need to network in order to broaden our circle of influence.
People can offer a wealth of information and advice if approached correctly. Therefore, whether it is for personal goals, career ambitions or changes to benefit the wider community, networking is essential.
Support can be wide ranging; from encouragement, engagement, advice and introductions.
"If you offer to help out physically or by sharing a resource or a contact from your network, make sure that you do exactly that"
How to network effectively
Networking is a skill that can be learned and improved upon. It is one that I doubt comes naturally to many people. Networking does not necessarily involve going out of your way to attend formal speed dating style events. However, who you network with and where will determine how much you take away from the experience. But, never assume anything about the other person based on where you are or what you see superficially.
Here are some networking tips:
1. The elevator pitch
For most of us, we can create an opportunity every day by networking in our routine lives if we take time to consider what it is that we want to offer to the many people that we interact with. The best offerings can spark interest in a project, organisation, idea, person or product if shared succinctly and within 25 seconds, lasting no longer than a short elevator ride.
2. Questions that make a difference
When we meet someone for the first time who is willingly telling us about their background and their ‘offering,’ we can respond to them in one of many ways. Most commonly, we wonder what it is that they are trying to sell us. Unsurprisingly, you will get exactly that at networking events.
Asking lots of questions will help you understand the person and is a win-win approach to networking because in trying to understand the other person’s interest, you will gain their trust.
3. No need to know it all
When listening to others, there is no shame in admitting that you do not follow what is being said. Common traps include acronyms or technical information. When we share our vulnerability with others they tend to drop their barriers too.
For those new to networking, especially when attending events outside your technical expertise, these challenges are guaranteed. People can see through it when you pretend to know it all.
If you offer to help out physically or by sharing a resource or a contact from your network, make sure that you do exactly that. More importantly, do that immediately after the event or within 24 hours. By following up on the promises made without being prompted or chased after the initial meeting demonstrates that you care.
Professions, like optometry, can be quite small and you never know when you will be on the receiving end. You are an ambassador and keeping your word is an easy way to build integrity into your brand.
5. Strike while the iron is hot
A speedy follow up, whether you are expecting to receive or intending to give, is a massive winner for positive outcomes. People are most likely to respond to you while the memory of your meeting is fresh in their minds. Equally, you are more likely to retain more information about the person, their interests and the conversation immediately after the meeting, which will make it easier for you to compose a personalised follow up message.
6. One deep connection
Networking is daunting for most people. A simple rule to follow when you get cold feet or feel overwhelmed by the experience is to aim for one deep connection. Take your time to get to know one person, organisation, idea or product well by listening and asking meaningful questions. Think about how you or one person in your network could help the person you are engaging with.
Making a deep connection does not need to take long. However, focusing on a deep conversation can help you get your flow back when you sway off path or feel like you are running out of conversation. Sentences that begin with “tell me more” or “let me get this right, so what you said is” demonstrate attentiveness, and will help you regain focus on the conversation.
Those new to networking can be either protective or defensive of their organisation, idea or product. Do not be scared to share your offering in case someone steals or criticises your idea or product. Firstly, never take criticism personally because constructive feedback will only make your offering better. Secondly, while it is highly unlikely, if it is copied then there is no better confirmation of the fact that your offering is worth pursuing.
8. Broaden your network – exponential growth
Finally, a friend of mine recently shared a one liner with me that will help those seeking lots of new introductions whilst networking. I also use this question to pardon myself when I’ve been talking to one person too long by asking: “Who is the one person in your network or possibly in this room that you think I should meet?”
Image credit: Getty