Monday, October 27, 2008

Networking - the connectivity

There are several networking events in which you can build up several essential business contacts - be it for work, job recommendations or any other useful purposes. They will be useful for your career advancement when you can gain valuable insight onto the growth of an industry or even its job prospects. You may be even referred to a job position. In addition, you can better develop your skills - interpersonal & communication, presentation etc.

Therefore, I will touch base upon the interesting topic of "Networking - the connectivity".

There are many books you can read up on it. I will not dwell too much on the theories. I shall summarize shortly on the things you should look out for to better enhance your networking skills

1) Do a background study
More often when we attend a networking event, we lack strategic focus and do not know the essence of it. Typically, an invitation will be given out that states briefly the profile of the speakers, the event objectives, whom its targeted for and the subject content. Wait a minute. How about knowing more about the company background and the industry? Do you know a lot about the sectors? Can we project the type of audiences that will turn up and if these people are the group of personnel you want to network with? If it's being held in a very posh venue with strict RSVP and other abiding regulations, you can make a perceived assumption that you are looking to interact with people of higher management level, preferably CEO, MDs, VPs. Hence one should be competent in his industry knowledge and professionally sound & look good.

2) You cannot network with everyone in the room
Unless there is a segment where the compere allows this, you can't possibly get all the contacts in the room. Be extremely observant in little things around you but maintain your composure. When someone near you exchanges his business cards with anhother person, you can shift your eyes away to notice the type of business he is in (but not too obvious). Alternatively, walk around and take better notice of groups chatting with one another. This will be your target because you can easily exchange your contacts with 3 to 4 people. Also once you managed to hook up with a person, spend at most 5-10 minutes as your time is limited and you wish to network with more people. Promise to the other party that you will stay in touch with him (that is if you will).

3) Be likable & approachable. Be brave, sincere and passionate to network
People come from different backgrounds and react differently to unique behavioral norms and attitudes. Similarly in a networking event, you will get to meet many interesting people whom demonstrate different communication styles. You can learn from them as you observe! On the contrary, there are certain lingo which may be a no-no to the other party (such as flaring your arms too much as if you are getting agitated easily or asking him how many kids he has, is he married) when he may misinterpret your actions/thoughts. Therefore be as professional as you can, talk with more assertiveness, remain calm & composed, friendly, smile and focus on the person you are conversing with. As first impression counts. Be likable and try not to blow your horn too much. I have seen business people literally bringing their businesses to the sky. Do also take note not to bring down other organization business or having your own strong thoughts on certain sensitive issues (such as country politics). Lastly is to be brave on saying the first "hello, how are you" to strike your first conversation.

4) Your social norms
In most networking events, you will find refreshments, lunch or dinner. Try not to take food that is difficult to handle. Chicken wing is good if you go to a corner and eat (without the party looking at you how you dissect the wing). This is an intangible communication norm that will not be told but add marks to your professional outlook. Another will be untold body language. If you make your first contact with an individual and you find that he is shuffling around, eyes rolling and does not take attention to what you say, forget it and move on. Shake hands with him and say it's nice knowing you. Then there will be others who screen at you from top to bottom, making you uncomfortable. Well, take it like a pinch of salt, smile, project a strong voice and introduce yourself. He may be surprised and know that you have what it takes to network like a true gentleman/power lady. To the other way round, your body language is also important for others to assess if you are sincere or just promoting your business. Take pride in knowing what your conversing party does. Ask him questions pertaining to his line of competence (if you know, if not, be polite and seek his advice). Upon which, you will get his interest

5) Your introduction & ice breaker

Think about how you plan to introduce yourself and ask the other party questions. It is like a one liner that says "Hi, how are you?" or more detailed "Hi, how have you been? Does the food taste good?" There is no formally right or wrong answers. You have to be comfortable in telling people whom you are, what you do. Sometimes it's better to let the other party ask you questions or he tells you about his business (the conversation can carry on further). Avoid lines such as "Hi, my name is xxx. I am from xxx company and work in the xxx industry. My responsibilities ....." Its getting too advertisement driven. Try not to make too much "small talk" without focusing on the main topic. Be specific, knowledgeable and discuss issues/obstacles in relevance to the industry but not to the extent of your first introduction - "I heard this industry is not faring well, what are your opinions"? A good eye contact, firm handshake, smile and professional look with a simple tag-line "Hi, my pleasure to meet you. My name is xxx in the xxx industry" then you exchange your business cards.

Here are some things which I had seen in several networking events:
(a) wearing shorts & slippers to formal events (overly dress down, *gulp*)
(b) food crumbs around the mouth while talking
(c) overly fidgeting with own body parts while talking (lack of self confidence?)
(d) boasting about their abilities, skills & businesses they are in (usually will know from their tone of their voices, their great emphasis on certain points which are overly expanded, so as to justify his verbal evidences which in case it may be spoiled beans if the other party knows about the actual facts)
(e) not answering to you much when you introduce yourself, eyes shifting away to other direction, screening you from top to bottom ---> take it like a pinch of salt, wow the contact if possible, if not, move on!
(f) asking first-time questions that are out of the blue (e.g. "are you single or married and how many bf/gf you have, political sensitive queries)
(g) giving out business cards excessively, asking people to contact him if there is any needs (overly driven salespersons whom usually gets negative reviews)
(h) going for free food during networking events
(i) weak handshakes (e.g by fingers) unless stipulated by religion or faith

Remember to to regularly stay in touch (with IMPORTANT, USEFUL people because time is limited - quality counts) with your contacts after the network (drop a line and ask your contacts out for lunch, not just few simple emails)

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