How to network with confidence

Author: PM editorial | Date: 19 Oct 2016

Networking be done clumsily but the ability to make lasting connections is a valuable asset

Networking is a word that fills even the most confident individual with dread. And while the advent of LinkedIn and other online tools means you can make introductions virtually and maintain a network of people you’ve never even met, there’s still no substitute for face-to-face interaction.
 
“The more connected you are, the more people in your network, the more you can rely on someone within that band to help you out,” says Perry Timms, founder and director of the People & Transformational HR consultancy, whose years of networking have earned him a diary full of contacts. But “networking can be done clumsily, over-eagerly and just downright noisily – and that isn’t effective. Considered, genuine, gentle networking is always the best way.”
 
Vijay Goel, chairman of ASSOCHAM UK, one of the largest chambers of commerce in India, agrees: “Face-to-face networking is better – you can see eye- to-eye and you will know how genuine the person is. There is so much internet activity these days you never know who you are dealing with.”
 
Even so, finding the right opportunities can still be tricky. It’s worth investing time to identify small, targeted events aimed at people like you, ideally held by membership organisations or informal groups rather than commercial businesses that are likely to subject you to a ‘hard sell’. Consider looking for events in different sectors, or different disciplines, which will enable you to meet people outside the usual HR circles.
 
Before you arrive, spend time looking at the delegate lists and researching any speakers. The aim isn’t to turn the event into a slog, but being prepared will help you open conversations with confidence. Think about the things you can offer in conversation – around your own experience and recent developments in your organisation, or your personal background.
 
Don’t be afraid to approach anyone – at a networking event, everyone is there for the same reason and expects to be spoken to. Asking someone what they are working on or simply engaging in small talk can open the door to more meaningful connections. “There’s nothing wrong with being honest about why you’re there, and what you hope to get out of the event,” says Timms. “Be curious and interested in what others are saying and they’ll be the same with you.”
 
And if you’ve been able to make potentially useful contacts, the next step is to maximise them after the event. Take note of who you spoke to and what you discussed. Consider introducing contacts to each other, which can be an effective way to establish trust early on, or emailing them a follow-up note to build a relationship. LinkedIn networks are also good ways to maintain contacts.
 
“Ensure a consistent and timely follow up with your business contacts,” says networking expert Sharon Schweitzer of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. But don’t expect immediate returns, she adds: “Keep in mind that these relationships take time to develop. Focus on the long not the short term.”