Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Learning to Network

Jaimini Solanki & Ben Campion, Cohort 2019

Our recent workshop with Will Kintish, business networking skills expert, provided a real insight into the importance of networking for engineering leaders.

Simply put, networking is just building relationships. This can be split into three stages: getting to know someone, liking them, and trusting them, which is the foundation for any relationship, professional or otherwise. Meeting people at networking events is fundamentally no different to meeting people at a social event and the same principles apply. This means you can forget about delivering a sales pitch to the people you meet and focus on being yourself!

The 3 Fundamental Fears


Will helped identify the three fundamental fears we all harbour which can inhibit successful networking.
  • Fear of the unknown can be especially challenging for those new to networking as it can be difficult to gauge what to expect from events and how to prepare for them.
  • Fear of rejection from those you wish to talk to might prevent you from being proactive and starting discussions.
  • Fear of wasting your time by not meeting the right people, and so not gaining opportunities.
We learnt how to manage these fears by preparing for the event, working the room when you get there and following up on opportunities that you have identified for yourself. So how do you do this?

What should you do before you get there? 


With just a little preparation before attending a networking event, you are bound to feel more comfortable and relaxed on arrival.

Plan how you’re going to get there and what time you should leave to ensure you’re not rushing. Arriving early to networking events prevents walking into a room and not knowing where to start. It’s easy to make conversation with someone when you’re both waiting for an event to begin. Research who is going to be attending - events often have guest lists. This is useful for finding out who you would want to talk to. If there are keynote speakers, learn a bit about their background as potential conversation starters.

A simple yet crucial piece of advice from Will is to believe that you are interesting and that you have something valuable to provide others. You have just as much right to be there as anyone else.

What do you do when you’re there?


A room full of people you don’t know and want to impress can be incredibly nerve-wracking. Will highlighted how to take something you might want to avoid and turn it into a way to create opportunities for yourself.

Dale Carnegie said: “Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language”. Names are the first and most important thing we learn about someone. When introducing yourself, say your name clearly and repeat it in full. Remembering names shows genuine interest so be sure to make a mental note of theirs. If you need to, ask for a business card to help you remember. But most importantly, take the time to actually listen to it in the first place! Then you can utilise your new-found knowledge by using their name in conversation: ‘Nice to meet you Will…’ ‘So Will, what did you think of…’

The best way to ‘be interesting’ is to be interested in the other person. You don’t have to do all of the talking. In fact, asking a good question, prompting someone to open up, is perhaps the most interesting thing you can do.

It’s not always easy knowing what to say to break the ice. Focus on topics you have in common. Commenting on the venue or where they have travelled from is a great way to start a conversation with someone new. It is best to avoid discussing religion or politics as these can be sensitive issues. Family may also be a sensitive topic so avoid asking but feel free to discuss if it comes up naturally during the conversation. Use small talk to get to know someone before moving onto business, but keep it light. Networking is for finding contacts and spotting opportunities; it is not for closing deals and signing contracts.

What should you do after you leave?


Use the business cards you’ve collected to make notes about the person: What was discussed? What did they like? What can you offer each other?

Then follow up! Pick up the phone, send that email. Use the notes you’ve made to restart conversations and seal those opportunities that you worked so hard to find.

LinkedIn is a useful tool for keeping up with fellow professionals and can be a great first step when reaching out. It’s not just an online CV but a personal website. Keep your profile updated with things you’ve been working on in real time to show anyone you connect with.

Takeaways


The biggest takeaway that we gained from this workshop is knowing how valuable you are. It can be easy to fall into the trap of feeling inferior to those more experienced and accomplished, but this is a mindset that can set you up to fail before you even try. Instead, believe that you have something to gain from every networking event you go to and each relationship you build. Anyone you interact with can gain a lot from conversing with you! This will help you make the most of networking and create the best opportunities for yourself.

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