Networking, Social and Otherwise, and Self-Branding

Within the limitations of my life, whenever I hear of an upcoming business breakfast at Glyndwr University, I always try to attend. They have a wide variety of subject matters, always focusing on some aspect of maximising business opportunities or improving your profile to draw customers or some such. Always useful, always interesting.

Today's lecture, delivered by Rob Popsys, life coach for Willcando, focused on the topic of social networking: itself a fascinating topic. Not the online variety, where your efforts to make your name known are subsumed beneath an avalanche of requests to join you on FarmVille, but the kind of social networking where you meet people and shake hands and swap business cards, and then go home and make things happen.

Major points covered:-

- Networking is conversation.

More to the point, networking is an ongoing conversation. Having met once with a node of your network - client, potential friend, resource of interest to a possible third party also in your network - networking practically obliges you to continue conversations with the people you've met, as others are obliged to continue to communicate with you.

What happens at the networking event doesn't stay in the event.

- Let people talk about themselves.

Who likes to listen to a blowhard who pushes and pushes his topic and never lets up? I know one man who, if you engage him, will talk to you forever about his SCA activities,long past the point of interest and well into the territory of irritation. A part of networking involves active listening; drawing out the person you are speaking to, so you can get to know more about them.

- Establish connections.

I don't mean exchanging email addresses here. The most brilliant part of networking is when you discover that you have something in common with the person you are speaking to. You might share the same birthday; you might have gone to the same school; you both might know what the word "epiphany" means ... Whatever the connection, if you establish one it provides a brief moment of rapport, which you can seize upon.

- Disarming.

Newcomers to networking events often find the prospect of meeting strangers terrifying. Business breakfast meetings and social events like these serve to disarm people's trepidations and fears, allowing them to mingle and, more importantly, relax enough to trust those they meet.

- Natural.

Social meetings like business breakfasts and similar social networking events allow people to be their own natural selves. In the relaxed shirtsleeve environment of a networking gathering, anything can become possible once the ice has been broken and people can let go their fears. This does not mean they they go all the way from being shy and reserved to dancing on tables; it means finding out about the things you want to achieve, and having the strength to speak out about them knowing the people will actually listen to what you have to say.

- Ask open questions.

Open questions are probably the most important part of networking. Don't just ask a question which has a yes/no answer - "Do you come from Wrexham?" ""Do you like coming to social networking events?" - ask one which requires a little thought, and a more detailed answer such as "Why do you come to these meetings?" or "Who do you expect to meet here?" or even "Whom would you really like to meet here?"

- The Elevator Pitch.

An important aspect of networking is having an elevator pitch. You are trapped in a lift with the one woman who can make your plans happen. She will grant you funding, provide you with a place, even set up a half dozen starter clients for you. No strings attached. But first, you have to grab her attention - and you only have thirty seconds: the time it will take for the lift to get from the ground floor to the floor where she gets off. What would you say?

- Elevator Pitch Repertoire.

Some name dropping went on here, with HRH Prince Charles being mentioned liberally. It must be wonderful being HRH Prince Charles. He gets to meet himself every single day. However, the Prince does have one tool at his disposal, or rather several - he doesn't have one pitch to drop into a conversation to disarm tensions: he has several, based on his vast experiences in life and the staggering number of people he's met throughout it. A repertoire of short lift pitches could help you in your networking, allowing you to drop in the right one at the right moment to break ice without wounding any pride in the process.

- Interest in people.

If you only went to networking meetings to get business done, to set up and close deals with whatever person you meet there, you're doing it wrong. If you go to a meeting and you see no customers there who have an interest in your pitch, again you need to reevaluate your reasons for going there. You need to adopt the attitude that you only go to these meetings because you are interested in people; only then will you meet up with people who become interested in you.

- Show up.

These meetings are probably an important part of any business. If you say you're going to drop by at a meeting, make sure you turn up. It's important to honour your commitments. Likewise, if you have a choice between some meeting and a networking event, come to the networking event. You have no way of knowing whether or not someone might be there who'll take an interest in you or your business.


Possibly the most important part of the networking event occurs not during the event, but after it. Turn up, sure. Sample the food and refreshments, sure. But when you're done, if you have contact emails - send them a hello straight away! If you have a blog post, attach that to the email and send it in! It is essential that you show your willingness to take the matters begun in the meeting and carry on with them afterards, because as stated above, networking meetings are an ongoing conversation.

This is what I gathered during the hour and twenty minutes I spent at this business breakfast meeting. My thanks to Glyndwr University's The Zone for organising the events. I am looking forward to turning up at the next one to see what is happening there. I am also looking forward to tonight's lecture at 17:00 - report on that to follow.

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