A recent article in MT by Devora Zack and her accompanying book is the most sensible advice on networking that I have seen in an age.

The workshop that I developed is structured in a slightly different way and I thought it might be a useful counterpoint to Devora’s thinking to highlight it here.  There are four key areas:

Strategy: The concept of strategy is overcomplicated in my view: It is simply deciding where you want to get to and how you are going to get there.  In this particular context it is deciding where you want to be in ten or fifteen years time, which makes short term decisions such as this job or that role, this event or that conference, far easier.  It also forces you to consider the people you meet with a different perspective: as long-term business partners with whom much value can be created… for both of you.

Preparation: There are two elements to this, which are preparing yourself and preparing to meet others.  In the first category I place the manner in which you appear (which should be consistent with your long-term strategy) and the brevity with which you can explain what you do, the skills and experience you have and where you are personally trying to get to.  The second category is seeking to discover, in advance, more about the challenges of the people you are likely to meet, whether that is at an industry, company, regional or individual level.  This enables you to both engage people more genuinely and also have a proto-view of how you might be able to add value.

Networking skills:  This is essentially about making the person or people you are speaking to feel more comfortable.  Part of this is about developing active listening skills and part about developing personal strategies to overcome your own fears, which tends to put other people more at ease too.  For example, if you hate that moment when you walk into a room full of people, you might adopt an approach of stopping, for the briefest of looks around the room, before heading with deliberation for someone standing on their own.  After each event, think about those moments that you, or a person you saw or were talking to, felt uncomfortable and consider a couple of things that you could have done to alleviate this.  Over time networking will become a real pleasure.

Administration:  As Devora points out, following up promptly is essential and I would suggest that within 24 hours is better still, as this helps people develop a clearer memory of you.  Reminding them what you were talking about further assists both of you to remember that conversation at a future point in time, whilst adding a link, for example, to an article that backs up your own view adds value as well as validation.  But the administration doesn’t end there.  If this person and you really are going to be useful, long-term contacts, you need to be able to stay in touch.  This is a very personalised area, as some people will feel happy with CRM systems, some with cardex containers, but the systems you develop for collating and re contacting both need to be low maintenance otherwise you will stop using them when work or life gets busier… and since the real value in networking is in the long-term, it is vital to keep at it.

Devora’s book looks great and I have already added it to my library:  I see it as a worthwhile investment as not only is networking a valuable tool for business, it’s an essential skill for life.

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