Do you? Or do you hate the idea of walking into a room cold and having to make bland conversation with strangers? In this blog we will examine exactly what networking is all about and how to make it more palatable for you.
I started this blog with the slightly controversial statement “I hate networking” simply because I hear it so much from women – so much so that we dedicate one of our modules on the RISE development programme to networking and visibility. On our Elev8te model it is our 7th trait out of the 8 Traits of Successful Women, Natural Networking!
The groans we hear when we ask women how they feel about networking are so consistent, we understand it really is seriously a blocker for women, but why is it such an issue? Many women feel that anything that smacks of ‘politicking’ or having to “blow their own trumpet’ really distasteful, so much so that they don’t really appreciate that it is part of the success factors of the 21st century.
In fact, some much-cited research suggests that very little of our success in our careers is attributable to our actual work but that a far greater percentage is due to our visibility and an even greater percentage is due to networking. Sadly, it seems that just doing a great job, keeping your head down and working incredibly hard is not enough to get you promoted. Of course, if you have an amazing job and an organisation with a highly effective talent management process and a massive commitment to gender parity you may be lucky. But how many organisations truly have that combination at play and do you really want to sit back and pray that someone will notice you? The frustration of watching colleagues around you who are great at presenting themselves and getting noticed for their achievements get promoted will either drive you crazy or leave you so demotivated your performance could drop.
How do you become more visible in the workplace without feeling you are showing off? It could be using some formal routes such as applying to take on projects, join steering committees, writing about the work that you do, offering to go to other departments to present on projects, putting your hand up and volunteering to do things, or instigating them i.e. social responsibility projects. However there are many informal ways to be more visible in the workplace, for example does your internal email signature state your job title, do you constantly email people or do you take the time to pick up the phone to them, or walk round to their department to talk to them, or simply do you smile at people in the corridor and chat in the lunch queue. On the RISE Women’s Development programme we run an exercise on first impressions and it always makes me smile when people say “I have seen you around for years and I always thought you were really miserable/intimidating/unfriendly but now I realise that you are really fun and interesting!” What messages are you giving off as you walk around your workplace?
And how about Town Hall type meetings – when the Senior Execs do a presentation of the state of the nation or the annual strategy kick off and ask for questions, do you put your hand up and ask an intelligent challenging question? We work with a lot of senior execs who say it is really disappointing for them when they ask for questions and nobody speaks up – so make it easy for them and get yourself noticed at the same time.
And, of course, there is Linked In – networking on line which takes very little time and can increase your networking opportunities considerably. Commenting, sharing, writing blogs or posting videos can enhance your visibility no end. Just ensure that your Linked In Profile is up to date and positions you well and that your contributions are always positive – even if you are challenging a view!
So, what about the actual networking events – how can you make them more palatable? Firstly, you need to have a really good elevator pitch – a 10 second introduction that makes you sound interesting. Don’t leave it to chance, write something and learn it so that if you are put on the spot you can reel it off effortlessly. Set yourself a challenge – maybe to meet 5 people you don’t know, arm yourself with some great conversation starters and be bold!
Some examples of conversation starters are;
- What did you think of the speaker’s comments on…?
- What has brought you here?
- What accent am I detecting there? (although be careful not to be drawn into guessing as it can be so easy to offend certain nationalities!)
or find an interesting fact about the building, the subject, the speaker or something topical. And then, take a deep breath, relax and plunge in ignoring your desire to slink over to the coffee table and search for a familiar face who you can spend the next couple of hours with.
As one lady said to me after completing our networking module – “I have found I really like networking now, I have met some fantastic people and there is often alcohol there!” So, nothing to lose and plenty to gain!