For older workers, these career connection tips are absolutely vital…
1. People can only do business with you if they have personally met you, been referred to you, or gotten to know you over a period…
Don’t pay the fees for any networking group unless you plan to attend regularly. Better to just pay the small ‘non-members’ charge when you do attend. Final vital tip: Don’t join unless you plan to become well known and to get to know lots of new people over the next few months.
2. Always stay fully focused on the person you are talking to…
Giving someone a couple of minutes of uninterrupted time and eye contact is always better than ten minutes of talking with your eyes darting around the room.
3. Prepare two or three questions that you can comfortably ask strangers…
What is the main benefit you’ve gained from being a member of [this group]?
What was the highlight of your day? Weekend? Last week? (Don’t focus on negative topics. Keep it light and interesting when you first meet).
How long have you been coming to these functions?
4. ‘Escape’ appropriately at functions…
Your goal is to leave the conversation graciously and allow for an easy start to a new conversation when you next meet. Do this by:
Trying to look for a future activity to share.
Creating future opportunities together.
If you have promised something, repeat it; e.g. “I’ll be sending you _______.”
Sometimes, it is necessary to escape. Ways to do this might be to perhaps introduce someone else or ask for their card before politely excusing yourself.
Don’t say what so many self-important people say: ‘I’ll be back in a second’ and you don’t see them again! Such behaviour recalls the wonderful saying ‘be nice to those you pass on your way up, as you’ll get to know them again on the way down’. This happens to many people and is something that Recruiters often observe in their dealings with those who abuse their authoritative positions and are subsequently retrenched.
5. ‘Work’ a conference before and after the formal bits
Arrive early or leave late or better still, do both. If the invitation says 5 for 5:30 pm, then 5.05 pm is a great time to arrive. The best connecting happens before and after the function, when there is no official programme keeping you locked to your chair (or quietly listening to speeches). Staying after the official programme ends is also a great time to network, and at this point, you also have the benefit of the seminar content to talk about. This makes for easy conversation opening.
Lots of busy people arrive late and leave early, missing the opportunities that are available. It’s far better to go to fewer functions and get value out of them. If possible, request a list of attendees before the event. Then, you can target the people you really want or need to make contact with.
Effective networkers talk to people about things that are not purely work focused. Find out about how they relax, how they spend their weekends and their interests. These are the things to write on the back of their business cards (and transfer to your database later). It’s also more fun – and if you are not having fun, what’s the point?
6. Refer business to contacts within your networks
Connecting is about helping people without expecting (immediate) rewards. If you do this, then they are more likely to want you in their network. And one thing everyone wants is more business, so refer them. One useful technique is to keep a stock of their business cards . You will be able to give their business cards out as opportunities arise to promote their business. You might write a note on the back of the card such as ‘hope this helps, Regards _____‘. This way they can track the referral back to you.
7. Thank those who help you…
If someone helps you or refers you business, you should always thank them. Whether it’s just a brief email, a phone call, an online gift voucher, a bottle of wine, a bunch of flowers or a book – whatever seems appropriate for the size of the referral – you need a system to be able to do it quickly. At Lead Creation, we keep a few great boutique reds.
8. Business Card Tips…
Cards don’t cost much but are worthless in your drawer. When was the last time you ran out of cards before you changed jobs or your contact information? Running out rarely happens.
So, use them and keep stocks everywhere – in your briefcase, handbag, wallet, gym bag, and car.
On the reverse side of every business card received, write:
The date and place where you met
Any action required
The personal and fun bits about them
Always follow an exchange of business cards with a prompt email. Prior to a big event, you could make a note on the back of 20 or 30 of your cards “FPA dinner 4/16” before you go out. This helps the receiver remember you – which is the main reason for going (apart from the fun of course!)
9. Go on: Sit with a stranger (AKA new friend)…
At conference meals and seminar sessions, try to sit with a different group each time and ideally with some people you don’t know. At the Lead Creation ‘Network Building Workshops’, we sometimes ask people to raise their hands to indicate who is sitting next to a work colleague. Often a forest of hands goes up at one table! Sitting with people you know well won’t help you to build up your network that much.
10. Sincerely attempt to heal misunderstandings…
Drain off your grievances – they simply cause too much stress to maintain and can damage your network as you mutually badmouth one another. It is so much easier to exchange a few pleasantries and move on.
I once held a grievance against a former boss. Two years after I left his company, we sat in an outdoor café halfway up the mountain in Thredbo (called Frostbite for those who know it), facing each other, three metres apart, and managed to avoid eye contact. Extraordinary!
Then I read this networking tip, one the ultimate networker, President Johnson, kept taped to his desk. The next time I saw my old boss was in a bar, and I made a point of saying hello. He was so pleased to have the ice broken he bought me a glass of Bollinger. And we had a great chat, big lesson learnt.