For many of us, ‘networking’ can be a fear-inducing word. We’ve all been around a friend or coworker who can strike up a meaningful conversation with just about anyone—strangers at a party, the person in the seat next to them at a sports game, or on the train—how do they do it so well and yet so effortlessly?
Well, the good news is that you don’t need to be an outgoing person like your pal to sharpen your networking skills, and there are steps you can take to develop your skills and your very own diverse and vibrant network.
Let’s start with breaking down what networking actually is, why you should care, and how to break out of your shell to start practicing today.
Networking can mean different things to different people, depending on your lifestyle. One thing that is universal to all of us, however, is the inherent benefit of having a wide variety of people in our lives beyond the street and city we live in, the places we work, the friends we made in university, our families, etc. Why? The broader you cast your net, you immediately allow space for a few key drivers of change in your overall world: increased diverse viewpoints, shared experiences, greater potential for innovative ideas, deeper sense of empathy, stronger communication skills across cultures. You can accomplish more of what you care about when you know more people, and can access them.
The benefits of solid networking skills go beyond social media platforms and seeking your next job or career move. It’s about developing the critical relationships with others through collaborative learning and experimenting that will lead to more meaningful work accomplished. Broadening your circle and fostering new relationships doesn’t happen overnight, however, the process of developing your skills to engage and connect with your network will have unlimited benefits.
Karen Kun, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Waterlution, has hands on experience and spends pretty much most work days networking with others. It was a skill she started to learn in the early days of Waterlution, almost 15 years ago, and she gets better and better at it as each year passes (after awhile, it doesn’t feel like work or “networking.”) It is about a genuine interest in what others are doing, and sharing your enthusiasm for your work too.
Here Are Karen’s Top Tips for Networking in 2017!
- Get yourself out there. You can’t network sitting behind a desk or staying home! Social media platforms are good, yet nothing replaces the intimacy of a face-to-face conversation, as people will remember you more. See Dona Geagea’s blog on youth engagement.
- Be confident about your strengths, and play to them.
- Know what you want from the people you are networking with. Hint: busy people will rarely say yes to meeting you for a coffee without knowing that there’s something specific you want and that they feel they can help you with.
- Communicate up to 3 main points clearly – including specific areas you’d like to follow up on.
- Have a clear closing message, including why and when you will follow up with a new contact.
- Have a business card with your contact information, and always ask for others’ cards if you plan to follow up—don’t expect them to follow up with you just because you gave them your card.
- Remember the 3-minute network rule: it is not spoken, yet understood, that as you network, most people will give about 3 minutes of their time. Make sure you can wow your new contact within that timeframe (make it memorable, be yourself, tell a super brief story that relates to why you want to connect with them), and if you say you will follow up, then do!
- Dress the part – if it’s a formal event, dress appropriately; if it’s a picnic, don’t wear a suit.
- Practise, practise, practise – attend events that will have the types of people you want to meet.
- Learn how to ask meaningful questions. This is my actual #1 skill everyone needs to know. Questions are conversation starters. “What are you working on at the moment that you are really excited about?” “What are ways more youth could be engaged in the water sector?” “Are you traveling a lot at the moment? What takes you there?”
- Research people you want to meet who are attending the event. Identify where you have common interests or experiences to help initiate connections.
- Don’t take rejection or missed opportunity personally. Ask yourself, “How I can learn from that experience,” and identify ways that you can make your “pitch” more appealing. Every single person has been turned away and someone “important” has been dismissive of them at some point in their life. Don’t be dissuaded too quickly. Stay at it and you will build a fabulous network.
Get out there and have fun!