Networking Tips

Posted on

Tips to networking

Networking is essential in any field, but especially when working in community services due to the inter connected work of organisations. Having a connection with other organisations can not only assist with referrals but also enhances your professional development.

Networking is simple, its powerful and is a way you can share ideas and information with people and groups who have a common interest.

Networking opportunities include;

  • Cultural and Ethnic Groups
  • Professional Associations
  • Community Organisations and Volunteer Groups eg Lions, Apex, Rotary
  • Church and School Groups eg P & F Associations
  • Sports Groups and Teams
  • Professional affiliations
  • Networks such as franchises

7 tips for preparing for networking activities

  1. Identify where you should go. If you are not comfortable in large crowd type situations, perhaps you might like to start with smaller groups.
  2. Make a decision about which organisations you should join and which you don’t have to join in order to gain value from their events. For example, does it make sense to join a local chamber of commerce, or just go to the events that sound interesting and will most likely include people you should meet?
  3. Register for the event and schedule it like a business meeting. Many people either don’t sign up for events or sign up for them and then forget to go.
  4. Determine how often you should be networking in a given week, month or quarter. This will help you narrow down where you should be going. If you know that you won’t be able to make a weekly meeting then don’t sign up in the first place. Your non-attendance at a group is likely to annoy the very people you are trying to connect with.
  5. Develop open-ended questions you can use to ignite a conversation. Try to find unique questions; don’t ask the same old “So, what do you do?” if you can help it. A good option here if you are not a natural conversationalist is to ask a question about a topical news item. A word of caution though is to stay away from topics that may be a minefield in terms of controversy. The last thing you want is to be involved in is a heated discussion on religion or politics
  6. Attend events with a plan to learn something new. This will keep you from talking too much about yourself and your business. As discussed earlier, ask rather than tell.
  7. Dress appropriately. Like it or not, first impressions count. Ask someone else to critique your wardrobe and the way you dress. Let’s face it, some of us have a better idea than others on style.

(source: adapted from an original list at Smallbiztrends.com)

Musts in networking

  • Pre-plan the event. Figure out who will be there, what you need to bring, what your objectives are, and if anyone else from your organisation should attend.
  • Show up early, ready and look professional.
  • If you attend an event with a friend or associate, split up. It’s a waste of time to walk, talk, or sit together.
  • Walk the crowd at least twice. Get familiar with the people & the room.
  • Target your prospects. Get a feel for who you’d like to meet.
  • Shake hands firmly… No one wants to shake hands with a dead fish.
  • Be happy, enthusiastic, and positive.
  • Don’t waste time if the person isn’t a good prospect, but be polite when making your exit.
  • Say the other person’s name at least twice. First to help you remember it, second because it’s the most pleasing word to their ears.
  • Don’t butt-in. Interrupting can create a bad first impression. Stand close by, and when a pause or opening appears… jump in
  • Eat early. It’s hard to eat and mingle. Get your fill when you first arrive so you are free to shake hands, talk without spitting food, and work the crowd effectively.
  • Don’t drink. If everyone else is a bit loose, you’ll have a distinct advantage by being sober. (Have a few beers afterward to celebrate all your new contacts.)
  • Don’t smoke or smell like a cigarette.
  • Stay until the end. The longer you stay, the more contacts you’ll make.

(source: adapted from Jeffrey Gitomer (1999))

Wendy Webber
Head of faculty
Community Service and Counselling Faculty