As I’m preparing to head off on summer holidays, dear readers, I always get that thrill of anticipation. What kind of new experiences will I have? What new people will I meet and what will we talk about?
Yes, I’m an extrovert and I sincerely enjoy meeting new people. As my grandpa used to say, “I have never met a stranger.”
But, as I just wrapped up writing a facilitator guide on networking for a Train the Trainer program I’ve developed in partnership with Organon, a global woman’s health care company, I am very aware that not everyone feels a thrill at the thought of engaging in small talk and meeting someone new.
But professional networking, in-person or on-line, remains an essential necessity when it comes to working visibly, being a purposeful communicator and influencing your career path.
So, I want each of you to imagine yourself at a networking event or a conference or perhaps even in a virtual team meeting. How do you feel?
Are you the kind of person who will chat to anyone? Or do you scan for a familiar face? How do you feel about networking? Think about this.
There are no right answers. I just want you to be honest about how you have experienced it in the past – and even now – in more virtual settings. Are you an active networker? Do you think it feels fake or forced?
Let’s consider the practical importance of why networking is so important.
When you’re trying to influence your career – what are the ways you can do that? You must have abilities, of course. Your skills and professional abilities are very important. You must also work on progressing your communications. How you construct and then verbally deliver information about yourself and your work is also a very important quality.
But consider this: the more people who already know you –and value you and appreciate you, the more likely you are to be thought of for a new project – or a new position.
Imagine two candidates with equal skills. The person with stronger relationships with the decision makers is very likely to land the promotion. That represents the power of networking.
Okay, I just explained WHY networking is so important – but let’s now break it down to make it easier to figure out HOW to do it.
My first recommendation is get strategic!
When it comes to networking most of us are organic. We talk to someone new when we are put on a project together or if we happen to be added to their team. That sort of thing. But I encourage you to adopt a more “proactive” approach to networking.
Who is already very proactive? Who has a system? Okay, who doesn’t proactively network? Who’s a little shyer? Or unpractised or maybe you just plain don’t like it.
A lot of the time, we are our own worst enemies when it comes to changing our thoughts and behaviours around networking. We can talk ourselves out of nearly anything, can’t we? We justify why we’re not going to reach out to – whoever the person is – because we don’t have the right reason, they’re in another department, they’re too senior, they won’t have time or whatever, right?
But, I promise, if you simply reach out with a very straightforward email that says something like, “I came across you (and give whatever source or reason – through a presentation to the larger group, a profile in an internal comms piece or from the business directory)”, then you can simply then ask them if they have 10 minutes. Make it as brief as possible. And just ask for a quick introductory call. Tell them you would simply love to hear about their “professional journey.” That’s it.
TRACK YOUR NETWORKING
Phew! Now that you understand how easy it can be to initiate outreach and relationship building calls with virtually anyone, it’s essential that you track your contacts and the information.
Being able to track your progress helps you remember them better so you can show them more value. People love to be remembered. This helps you do that.
Once you get into the rhythm of expanding your network – proactively – each new call will become easier – and over time – you can see your relationships expand in many new directions – just like a pebble tossed into a lake.
REACH OUT IN THREE DIRECTIONS
And for a bit of a systematic approach to networking – imagine that you are trying to fill three buckets. You can reach out to managers and senior leaders above you. You can deepen relationships with your colleagues and others at your same level and perhaps in different regions. You can also learn so much by reaching out to new hires or junior employees. Reverse mentoring is so valuable.
Remember, my notion of “Know ‘em before you need ‘em”, isn’t manipulating. It’s relationship building and like all communications, it’s a two –way street. Someone may be able to help you – and you may be able to help someone else too. That has its own reward.
I want you to set a goal of one new person for each of the next three months. That’s three new people you wouldn’t have met otherwise.
It’s important for us as people to stretch ourselves to grow and develop. You might just meet some lovely human being on the planet you would not otherwise. That’s important. We are social animals, we humans. Don’t wait for someone else to make the first move. You can do it!