The Network Effect

By Brid O’Donnell

Key Points:

  • Be Brave
  • Prioritize Questions
  • Know when to move on
  • What’s next
  • Execute the follow up

Networking is hard, but necessary to be successful in the business world. Here are some useful tips to keep in mind as you begin your networking journey.

  1. Be Brave

Networking can sometimes feel like a game of luck, at a certain event, you may meet strangers who you can develop into good friends and allies or else you don’t. However, you can increase your luck by putting yourself out there as much as possible. Regularly try something new and be curious. That can be intimidating and challenging, but a good networker is continuously expanding their networks and leaving their silo. Thus you must put yourself in new situations, and you need to be ready to make the first move, a lot.

In the same thread as being brave, be the person who introduces people. Networking is about building mutually beneficial relationships; you must ask yourself what you can give, as opposed to thinking about what you want out of this connection. Often the answer to what you can give the other person is connections to new people as everyone needs a hand at networking. By bringing people together, you not only help other people network, but you are also signalling to those around you that you are a leader and creates a good reputation for yourself.

  • Prioritize questions, not stories

Everyone has stories that they enjoy telling. It is fair to say that you need to know your own story, aka your elevator pitch; the 60-second round-up of who you are, what you do, and why you do it. It’s important to make sure you get exposure and make yourself memorable and interesting. Thus you should prepare your story in advance and be ready to say. However, it should be brief and quick. After you make that introduction, the focus of the conversation should not be on you, but everyone else and the best way to achieve that is by asking questions.

Therefore, along with preparing your own story, you should also have a good list of go-to questions; broad, open-ended questions that help develop the conversation further. They are useful to fall back on when you are jumping into the deep end with someone completely new. However, don’t treat these questions like a checklist. Think of questions on the go, adapting to how the conversation unfolds. This shows that you are an active listener, which is a vital skill in networking.

  • Know when to move on

It often gets overlooked, but at a busy reception, it is easy to get end up in a conversation that has received its full potential; however, you feel too awkward to end the conversation. Don’t be afraid to shake their hands and say “Thank you for your time; It was so nice meeting you” or something similarly polite. You don’t need an excuse like I need to go to the bathroom, you need to acknowledge that you enjoyed the conversation and leave. If you are feeling like the conversation is nearing its natural end, the other person most likely feels the same way and appreciate the chance to start other conversations.

  • Next Steps

Introducing yourself to someone and having a chat isn’t enough to consider them a connection. Even adding them on Facebook or LinkedIn isn’t enough. You need to recall and formalize. I’m forgetful, especially when it comes to exact details, and the best advice I have ever received is to get a contact book or rather a personal CRM. Of course, you should take note of the person’s name, organization, background and contact details but don’t forget the small things. If you spoke about a certain topic or the person has a particular interest, include it. Even the stuff which seems irrelevant, like if someone mentions that they are a fan of Arsenal, remember that. Later on, when you reconnect, your contact will appreciate you remembering the small irrelevant things. There are many CRM apps out there you can use, but a well-designed spreadsheet could also suffice.

  • Execute the Follow-Up

The last step to networking is the follow-up. Emailing or reaching out to a new contact on LinkedIn soon after your first meeting can reenforce your first introduction and creates a new channel of contact. Use this opportunity to thank the person and show your appreciation and delight at meeting them. A specific thank you to someone can create a lot of goodwill and don’t be subtle about it. Finally, remember to keep your word and be thoughtful. If you said you would check something for them, follow through. This shows that you are reliable and quickly builds trust. As for being thoughtful, don’t be shy about sending people articles or clips that you think will interest them. This stage of networking can quickly become relationship-managing, and it can seem slow going, but networking is about continuous efforts that lead to future successes.

If you are interested in developing your networking skills further, Trinity graduate Kingsley Aikins has established The Networking Institute (www.thenetworkinginstitute.com) and has worked with major global corporates in finance, accounting and consultancy as well as governments and non-profit. Visit the website to pick up even more tips and advice on networking!

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