Have you at any one point in your career life, cleared your day’s schedule, worn an expensive suit and teamed up with a colleague to go into a business forum on behalf of the company, only to find a room full of strangers already in deep conversation? Dealing with the crazy rush hour traffic suddenly seems like a walk in the park compared to navigating this crowd. Despite your desire to run back to the office or hide in a corner, you have made a commitment to represent your company and “get connected” and now is your chance. To do this effectively, we will focus on the importance of networking and what it means to an organization, when to do it and how to do it.
Professional networking is a type of social network service that is focused solely on interactions and relationships of a business rather than a personal or non-business nature. It is based solely on the concept of being approachable. In a business, the bigger your networks, the more access you will have to funding, customers, and partners and advise. In the words of Adam Small, ‘Networking is the single most powerful marketing tactic to accelerate and sustain success for any individual or organization”. Networking for organizations has the following key benefits;
• Learning the dynamics of your industry
• Establishing business contacts
• Getting plugged into the community
• Seeking new opportunities
• Facilitating win- win relationships
• Creating referral networks
• Accelerate professional development
• Develop knowledge resource
In full knowledge of the above, it is important to note that every chance you have to interact with other professionals on behalf of your company is your one chance to earn all the benefits cited above. However, there are very many events which require professional networking and those are the ones we will address in this article. They involve conferences or workshops, presentations, business oriented forums, partner meetings and industry events. Some of these events last a couple of hours but others go for days. The time frame is important in this concept as it gives the company representative an outline of how much they can achieve within the time allocated. We will discuss how to network before, during and after the event networking.
Before the event, it is important that one researches on the expected target attendees and their respective companies. This goes a long way into establishing common interest when you have initial contact with professionals attending the event. The secret to tackling this nature of events be it conferences, meetings, forums or presentations, is to mingle effectively. To make this easier, arrive earlier to avoid intimidation. A room with five people is less intimidating than a room with a hundred people. Deal with all the arrival details (registration, getting a table, tags etc.) and head into the middle of the room to as it is easier to get noticed while there than on the sidelines. Make every minute count before the start of the forum to network. Networking is a strong mix of being approachable, knowing what to say and when to say it and maintaining good body language.
During the event, it is important to pay attention to the lectures, presentation or discussion to allow you to contribute during the sessions, ask meaningful questions and take in as much information as may be helpful to your organization. Good participation and relevant feedback may even allow you to be scouted by a few individuals after the forum.
There is no particular formula to mingling or rather networking but to find the contacts that you connect enough that you would want to connect again outside the event. This mainly applies to the networking approach that is mainly upheld after the forums. The after forum networking takes into consideration some concepts that are drawn from the book “Power of Approachability” .The key concepts include;
• Being ready to engage
• Look for a common point of interest
• Give flavoured answers such as Amazing while responding to “How is it going” as opposed to “Fine”
• Have various options for communication. These include email, business cards, website, social media and telephone information
• Take an active role during the communication
• Wear a name tag. It eases remembrance, it is free advertizing and it makes one more approachable
Steps to guide you include;
1. Initiate dialogue.
• Make sure to make eye contact and begin with a greeting and introduction. Have some questions or comments to follow up the introduction
2. Create a mini-bond
• A mini- bond is created once you can tap a balance between your words and body language
• Discuss favourite topics or current events
• Make sure you have done pre- event scouting
3. Get contact information
• As the conversation moves on exchange contact details. Ask for a card and give yours
4. Move on
• Know when to exit a conversation. It is important to respect the time that you have to try to have as much contact as you can with different people. A normal conversation should take between 5 to 10 minutes after which it is best to follow up later
5. Repeat this cycle often
• Focus on the quality of the conversation you have with each professional
A conference may involve a series of single events, to effectively network; allow yourself time to mingle as well as relax and go through all the sessions attentively. Of key importance is to find a balance between striking up a new conversation and nurturing existing one. Make sure to reach out and follow up with the contacts you made while at the events and learn from each experience.
With all the above insights, any professional networking sessions should now be a walk in the park.