Networking knowhow: Tips on how to be a natural networker
Mon Jan 20, 2014 12:21 PM
Jo Ouston offers her top tips on how to network successfully and naturally Networking knowhow
Mention the word ‘networking’ and for many people it is an immediate turn off. It conjures up visions of flash, fast-talking individuals working the room in a predatory fashion. When so-called ‘networking opportunities’ arise, many of us just feel uncomfortable or out of place. The truth is that many people don’t really know why they should network or indeed how they should go about it. They may think, misguidedly, that they have to present themselves in a manner that is not natural to them and strive to get a ‘result’ from every conversation they have.
If people approach networking with the idea of just ‘selling’ or of taking but not giving then the negative perceptions are inevitable. In his inaugural address President John F. Kennedy famously said: ‘ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country’. A similar spirit applies to networking. It is far more effective to view networking as a process of discovery, a mutual exchange – a chance to engage with others in an open and honest way, to give and receive information, to find and explore shared interests.
Networking is not an end in itself but a means to an end. It provides the opportunity to gather intelligence, to understand different contexts, to test ideas and opinions, to find out about new developments or ask questions about things you want to know. You may be introduced to people that you can help, or who can help you, whilst in return contributing your own knowledge and thoughts where relevant. Something or nothing may come from this. You may have little in common with some people you meet or even dislike them. Yet you may have learned something useful … even if you move swiftly on! If there is common ground, the initial conversation may be a first step in building trust and perhaps, further down the line, a continuing connection or working relationship.
Generosity of spirit
So how do you become more comfortable with networking? Firstly, set out to enjoy yourself. Recognise that you can contribute as well as receiving. Be generous – a honey bee, taking ideas from place to place and cross pollinating, while gathering gold dust yourself. Be nosy – not in an intrusive way but in the sense of having a curious, inquiring mind and taking an interest in other people. Ask questions about the things that interest you. Pass on the ideas that will be of interest to others. Some make connections more easily than others. They intuitively put themselves in other people’s shoes and are more readily able see the world from different perspectives. But don’t force it. If the person you are speaking to feels you are ‘putting it on’ or trying too hard, they will soon drift away.
Above all, be your warm, natural and engaging self.