Katie Banks is Employee Experience Manager in Nitro’s EMEA HQ. She Irish danced for 21 years and performed at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo Festival and the Olympia Theatre Dublin. Katie has a knack for writing a kickass CV and coaching people for interview--she’s become the go-to resource in her circle of friends and beyond.
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others.” – African Proverb
How often do you say to yourself, “I wish I knew someone who…” or, “I wish I had a contact in…”
Often confused with selling, networking is actually a means to building long-term relationships. It’s about sharing and regularly engaging with contacts; a strategic skill and requires planning, allowing you learn each time you make an introduction. In this way, networking it serves as a powerful professional and personal development tool.
But networking is not easy. While you don’t necessarily need to be an extrovert to benefit, you do need be able to be make it count when it’s your turn to say something.
The great thing about networking is that it’s not about communicating with the title of a person but the person herself. At the majority of networking events, you aren’t aware of the title or the influence of the person you are networking with. It’s important to try and at least make a connection while at these corporate function venues. Connections are made through meaningful and personal conversations between individuals as opposed to those driven by seniority or power. We are best reflected when we are just being ourselves.
There are 4 key networking tips which I focus on before each networking event.
#1 Be Strategic. Networking is not just an online skill. While it is important to have a professional profile and voice on social media, it is also about building personal relationships. Networking can be all about “You” if you network appropriately. This involves a balance of sharing who you are and listening and learning from others, integrating your voice into conversations at the appropriate time. Ensure you have your ‘elevator pitch’ ready so that people remember you for the reasons you want them to. Don’t forget that your strategic networks don’t just include your online presence but also your internal networks, informal networks and professional bodies.
#2 Take Notes. Absorb knowledge. If you are having conversations, think of yourself as a think tank and make mental notes of the ideas and opinions of others. Most current networking events include some sort of speaker or Q&A session—don’t be afraid to take notes throughout! Knowledge sharing is one of the most valuable forms of learning. Note taking works both ways—while taking note of what others are saying, you should also be cognizant of how you are contributing and how you can improve.
#3 Build Your Personal Brand. Networking events are the most valuable opportunity to build your own personal brand. This involves developing a “mark” around your personal name. It involves looking inside. What motivates you? What do you want to be remembered for? Are you self-aware? It involves making yourself visible. Online influence is one of the easiest ways to build your brand as it allows you the opportunity to share your story in a passive way. It reflects who you are in a personal and professional capacity to your connections on a daily basis.
It’s interesting too that in our increasingly digital world, face-to-face networking is still a crucial venture for businesses looking to expand. From finding new customers to identifying future collaborations with partners, networking is key if you want your business and brand to be an enduring success. Bonus tip: don’t forget your business cards! It’s never been easier to order business cards online. If you’re looking to make a big impression, business cards are a must.
An interesting statistic which I heard at a recent networking event was that employees have 10x more followers than their companies on LinkedIn; in other words, you have 10 times the reach your company does. Work out how to develop your brand across that reach, remembering that by building your personal brand you will become a brand ambassador for your company as well.
#4 Follow up. Always get an after! If an interaction was worthwhile and you feel like you could potentially learn more or give more, ensure you open up the opportunity to continue the conversation. Swap business cards, reconnect over a lunch, arrange to meet at another networking event, or, better still, think about organizing your own meetup. Most importantly, make sure to reach out socially and connect on relevant social media channels including LinkedIn, Twitter etc.
The more you network the more you will learn. The key is to build and practice your approach, ask good questions and actively listen, develop a point of view and be selective of the events you attend, focusing on the ones that add value to your own development.