BUSINESS NETWORKING SKILLS:
WOMEN IN MANAGEMENT
Effective business networking is the linking together of individuals (and businesses) who, through trust and relationship-building, become walking, talking advertisements for one another”. (businessknowhow.com)
It is a reciprocal process in which you share ideas, leads, information, advice, brainstorming, laughter . . . and sometimes even tickets to a ball game. The best networkers have savvy, common sense. Some of the best of them aren’t even aware they're doing it. They're just out there sharing ideas and sharing themselves.
Walking Into a Room Full of Strangers
Regardless of what they are called (events, meetings, conferences, mixers), the ever-increasing number of “meet-and-greets” have given networking a bad name. For some, especially women new to the ranks of management, the thought of intentionally setting out to a networking event gives them sweaty palms.
Many new women managers feel they don’t have a network, don’t know how to network, think they are “using” people, hate asking for help with a business issue or just believe they are no good at it. But answer the following question: Do you like people?
If your answer is yes, you’re already ahead of the game. Liking people is at the heart of good conversation which is effectively networking. If you think people are nice, helpful, interesting, or informative — you’ll want to talk with them. They will know it and like it. You've already connected with them. Now make yourself memorable to them and keep the development of a professional network high on your professional development agenda.
Networking Myths and Truths
Susan RoAne, The Mingling Maven®, debunks the following myths about networking.
I don’t have a network. Everybody does. We are born into it. We went to grammar school, high school, and college with these people and attend religious services with them. Go through the periods of your life, class photos and yearbooks, your neighbors, colleagues, co-workers, competitors and vendors. Check your old address books, Christmas card and holiday lists. People you met in the armed forces, and those who belonged to your clubs, bands, teams, sororities and service organizations. And don’t forget the people on the periphery of your life: your dry cleaner, your hair stylist, mechanic, computer consultant, carpools and local merchants. They are all part of your network!
People should know what you need and offer to help. Most people are happy to help when asked, but they usually don’t know what they need, much less what you need. The main thing to remember is that people want to be treated as people, not contacts. The best networkers just refer, match, recommend and bring like people together without even realizing they are doing it.
Networking is using people. Not so. Networking is a reciprocal process, a mutually beneficial giving and receiving, sharing ideas, information, leads, referrals and support. While science calls it interdependence, our grandparents called it helping. List the people for whom you’ve done favors. This may seem a bit difficult because so many of us give our favors without strings attached and feel it would be unseemly. Do it anyway. Most people like the feeling of a clean slate. Know who you know and who you owe!
I don’t have much to offer so I can’t get involved. Oh yes you do! Your skills, interests, avocation, hobbies. List the things you do well on your job. List your hobbies. Knowing what you do well allows you to know what and how to contribute, giving you the confidence to know that you can.
Make a List of All Your Contacts
This is Your Network
Count ALL your friends and acquaintances in your network! Divide them into A, B, C and D contacts so you can quickly access the right people for a given networking need.
A contacts are your personal friends and closest working contacts. You have lunch and dinner with them, stay in touch by phone, send them silly cards and birthday gifts.
B contacts are people you see sometimes and could be of importance in reaching your future goals.
C contacts are “sleeping” contacts – no daily contact but you don’t want to loose them. You send them a card or call a few times a year.
D contacts are names that disappeared from your network. Maybe you don’t want to stay in contact but keep their names in your rolodex in case.
Tap into this network of friends! You know more people than you think. Every person can introduce you to four or five new people. If you meet just one person every week, you’ll have made 50 contacts in one year.
Preparing for a Networking Event
Most of the time, networking involves entering a room full of strangers and you have to find a way to introduce yourself, have an interesting conversation and build a relationship in a very short timeframe. Follow these six steps to prepare for the event so you can focus on making connections and idea sharing once you get there.
Mental preparation. Ask yourself the following three questions:
Why am I attending? Is it necessary for you to attend personally or can a colleague do a better job, possibly because he or she has more connections already in the group. Make a clear statement for yourself about why you are attending and this becomes your focus.
Who will be there? Check the event’s participant list. Highlight the number of contacts that look promising and make a list of three, five or ten contacts (depending on how long the event is scheduled to last) you wish to speak to. Keep in mind that it’s better to spend fifteen minutes with one person than five minutes with three people.
What do I want to achieve? Make sure your objectives are specific, measurable, acceptable, realistic and timely. For instance, you want to meet three potential new clients, (specific and measurable), who won’t take away from service to existing clients (acceptable), to whom I can give my full attention within the time constraints of the event (timely), any more than three wouldn’t allow me enough time to really connect (realistic).
Physical Preparation. Know what you will wear and be sure your energy level is high. Leave work or home in plenty of time. Arrive early and relaxed. Drink water or juice and eat lightly. (Save the alcohol until you get home.)
Emotional Preparation. Does meeting strangers make you nervous? If so, look at the event as a social gathering where you’ll make some new friends. You are there to share, not “score”. Focus on the other person and make sure they have a good time. This will take your attention off yourself and enable you to arrive in an enthusiastic mood.
Behavior. Be excited not fearful, focused not obsessed. Practice introducing yourself and moving from one conversation to another. Be sure you give other people equal time to share their ideas and opinions, putting them at ease. One tough situation for me was finding everyone in the room already talking to everyone else when I walked in. (Me Bad! I should have arrived early.)
Imagine. Much like a professional athlete before a game, go over your performance at the event. See how you enter the room, smiling at people, shaking hands of interesting new people. Feel your energy spreading around the room so everyone wants to connect with you. Feel how easily you converse and connect and how you instinctively know when to move on. (It is accepted wisdom that the human mind can’t tell the difference between action in reality and action in your imagination!)
I would also coach you to stay breast of what’s happening in the world, in your close neighborhoods and in your industry.
The Ten Commandments of Connecting
Those who put other people’s needs ahead of their own find networking will come easily – and provides a mindset that makes networking much less intimidating. Not only that, reciprocity will follow naturally.
- Acknowledge the gifts from others’ leads, ideas, information and support. Everyone wants recognition and to be appreciated!
- Stay in touch by phone, fax, email, snail mail and in person when you need nothing.
- Be generous. Share ideas, thoughts, support, time and laughter with others.
- Be involved. Be seen on the scene.
- Pick up the tab. Treat someone to lunch or a latté.
- Observe the etiquette and (un)written rules of networking.
- “Good mouth” others. Pass on praise you have heard.
- Keep your sources in the loop. Let them get the news from you.
- Follow-up, follow-up, follow-up in a timely and appropriately persistent manner.
- Have fun! Life is too short to do otherwise.
How to Connect with People:
Five Steps To Effective Networking
The ultimate goal of networking is to make connections with new people. The following steps, recommended by Dr. Linda Ferguson, senior partner with NLP Canada Training, Inc. in Toronto, builds a natural process for making lasting connections at networking events.
Know what you want to accomplish. First, you’ll want to set a useful, realistic set of outcomes for the particular kind of event you will be attending. If you have no expectations, you won’t ever be disappointed, but you’ll never be productive either.
Start with expecting to collect three kinds of useful information from everyone you meet:
- Information about the kinds of things people enjoy and the places they gather
- Professional information about jobs, companies and people in a given business
- Different ways to make effective connections in a variety of contexts
Connect without words. There’s nothing you can say that makes as strong an impression as the desire to connect through shared expression, body language, movement and rhythm. When you make eye contact with someone, allow your body to take on the postures, gestures and expressions you are seeing. Walk toward the person as if you’d already had a conversation with them. By the time you say your first words, you will already have connected effectively.
Use language to build agreement. Nothing appeals more to someone than the sound of someone agreeing with them. Use the word “yes” as often as possible. Practice using “yes” instead of “but”, “uh” or “um”. The more you use the word “yes”, the more rapport you are building. Then, when you pick up your part of the conversation, repeat back several phrases the other person used – word for word, not paraphrased. You are creating an opportunity for matching interests.
Use questions to direct the conversation. Use questions to steer the conversation in a more general direction (away from a certain topic) or a more specific direction (toward a certain topic). In other words, move in when you like the direction the conversation is taking or move out when a connection is weaker.
Step into the future. The final step is to notice whether this is a connection you want to continue. If so, begin ending the conversation with references to the future, saying something like “When I think about this next week” or “When we see each other at next month’s conference”.
Make Yourself Memorable
Everyone has attended a networking event, collected a bunch of business cards and when going through them the next day, can’t remember who many of them were. Don’t be a woman manager no one can remember!
Be distinctive. An unusual necklace or other piece of jewelry and impeccable grooming can help you stand out. See if you can come up with a “tag line” you can use after your name – something like “The Cisco Kid” – assuming you work for Cisco. You don’t want to be remembered just for that, of course, but little things can separate you from the crowd.
Be fully present. Engage and be aware of the people you interact with – listen well, respond promptly, maintain eye contact (about 70% of the time).
Ask thought-provoking questions. Questions such as “how did you get started”? or “what do you enjoy most about what you do”? Dale Carnegie suggests you must “take a genuine interest in other people”.
Reinforce your “keywords”. People won’t remember long descriptions of what you do. At best, they’ll remember a few key things about you:
- Your name
- Your company name
- Your business/industry (in three words or less)
- Your product
- Your location
Unobtrusively increase the occurrence of these things in your conversation, with an interesting anecdote, if possible, to help them remember you. If you can get someone to remember just three of the above, you’re doing great!
Contribute to the group conversation. Don’t hog the spotlight and don’t say something just for the sake of saying something in public. Saying just one really smart thing at your table or in front of the whole group will make you more memorable than half an hour of semi-conscious small talk. Create value for others and you create value for yourself!
Approach someone who is standing alone. It will be very much appreciated and that person will remember you warmly for the one who saved her from feeling like a wallflower.
Resist the urge to hand out your business cards. Ask for other people’s cards instead. It’s a simple way of showing the other person at the initial point of contact that you’re not like all the others who are focused on themselves first. This is an enviable way to be remembered.
A number of experts recommend you practice an “elevator pitch” (it’s supposed to be presented between two floors) – a 15-second briefing with your name and what you do.
Create Your Own Luck:
Turn Serendipity into Success
When listening to someone else talk about their management experiences, have you ever thought, “She has all the luck”! Take a step back from the situation and you’ll see luck had little to do with successful results. What matters are the actions taken by these lucky women and those they chose to avoid.
According to the Mingling Maven®, women who turn serendipity into success exhibit different combinations of eight counterintuitive traits:
They talk to strangers during networking events.
They make small talk. Small talk leads to BIG talk.
They drop names. Some people feel that dropping names is a way of showing off and legitimizing ourselves by mentioning the people with whom we’ve spoken, dined with, met or hung out with. But when you mention the name of someone you and another person both know, you’re establishing commonality.
They eavesdrop and listen. Keeping your ear to the ground is not only a way to court information but also to do low cost market research.
They ask for and offer help. Successful people let others know what they need – without applying pressure – and reciprocate.
They stray from their chosen paths. Learn to recognize when the “AHA” light bulb goes on and be willing to detour from your current path to pursue a new one.
They exit graciously without burning bridges. Successful people know “when to hold’em, and when to fold’em”. Knowing how to make a gracious exit means not burning your bridges. You never know when you might need them.
They say YES when they want to say NO. A current trend, recommended as a time-management technique is ‘Just Say No’” to anything that might require time or be an imposition. Lucky people realize that saying no might mean missing an opportunity that could have resulted if only they’d said yes.
After Event Follow-up
Great networking doesn’t stop when you get into your car in the parking lot! Networks require care and feeding if they are to serve you well.
Follow through quickly on referrals you are given. When someone gives you a referral, your actions reflect on him or her. Respect and honor the person and your referrals will grow.
Keep a supply of postcards (one with a picture of your building or your company logo would be ideal). When you meet someone you would like to add to your B contact list, drop them a postcard, simply letting them know you enjoyed meeting them and that they are welcome to contact you in the future if there’s any way you can help them. Don’t ask them for anything during this initial follow-up. Be sure your name and email address are on the postcard somewhere. These postcards can also be useful if you run across something you think might be of interest to them – another opportunity to connect.
A Few Final Thoughts
“People do business with people they know, like and trust”, according to Naisbitt and Aberdeen in Reinventing the Corporation. Use networking effectively and often to become one of those people!
In the early 1990’s, Dr. Thomas Harrell from the Stanford University School of Business, studied a group of MBAs a decade after their graduation to identify the traits of those who were most successful. He found that their GPA had no bearing on their success. Rather, the one trait they all had in common was verbal fluency. They were confident conversationalists who could talk to anyone – colleagues, associates, investors, strangers and bosses - about just about anything. Their confident small talk led them to “big talk” - the lynchpin of their success.
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