We have all heard it- It’s not what you know, but who you know. But, who are these people, and how do you get to know them? For some it comes very easily and for others it’s a fate worse than public speaking, which, according to numerous studies, is more terrifying than death. Personally, I love networking. I love going out there and meeting new people, finding out what they are up do, what they are passionate about and trying to make connections between what I am doing, what they are doing and what others are doing. Networking has opened up some fantastic opportunities and given me some awesome stories.
Personally it’s an absolute necessity to be out networking as often as you can; though it’s tough, and it’s work, but we’ll get to that shortly. Whether in your city, town, province, or country, in the nonprofit sector or the business community, decisions are made by the people with power and the small groups that influence them. The personal and professional payoffs that come with being “in” with any of these groups is immeasurable, but worth it. I wholeheartedly believe that there are very real benefits to your organization putting your staff in a position to network.
Networking allows you to build a personal relationship with people outside of your usual social circle. I have become very good friends with people I met “through work”. So now, should I need to, I can call on these people for advice or, potentially, a favour (I do try to avoid that as best I can). Professionally, you never know who the people you meet know, and they can often put you in contact with the right person to make your project or initiative happen. I suppose that is the abridged version of how the Serving Communities Internship Program (SCiP) got started.
You also need to go into “networking” with an open mind, who knows what will come from it. However, in my experience it has always been worth it.
But how does one network?
First thing is getting in the door. Look around for public events and make time to be there. For me, the most successful networkers “live their brand” so to speak. It’s not about being a workaholic, but it’s about really believing in what you do, so you don’t mind spending your evenings “working”. Also, volunteer with groups that might be outside your usual sphere of influence. Chambers of Commerce, Boards, Committees or, for the more political, Election Campaigns are all great places to start.
While you are there, try not to be shy (which is easier said than done). Honestly, I find it helps to stand by the food or the bar, because people seem more talkative in those areas. That or, if there is open seating, just going up to a table, asking to sit there and then introducing yourself. Not every conversation will be fruitful, but there is rarely a negative that can come from it.
Also, business cards! They are like baseball cards for adults. I have learned people love trading them to each other. Collect as many as you can while at the event.
Another note about preparation for an event, catch up on the latest news. The worst part of networking is when things get awkward. So avoid that. Read up on sports, current events, weather, business, and yes even celebrity gossip (you never EVER know when knowledge about Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes divorce will come in handy). It sounds labour intensive, however it’s not that bad, devote maybe an hour a day to learning about the world and you automatically become a better conversationalist; as my grandpa used to say “know a little about a lot of things, and you’ll never be boring.”
Once you leave an event, take all the business cards you’ve collected and send them a note telling them it was great to meet them, that is unless you never want to talk to them again, which happens. If you had a particularly good conversation, or would like to connect further, do not hesitate to ask them for lunch.
Everybody loves lunch.
Stakeholder Relations Coordinator