Networking- in real life rather than online- is something that a lot of people worry about or find hard.
For your career, or just for a rich enjoyment of life meeting lots of interesting people, it is pretty important. Whether you work for a charity, volunteer for one (particularly as a Trustee) or both, it is likely that you will need to network at some point.
I happen to enjoy networking, but I think that there are three simple steps that make a real difference. They aren’t rocket science, lots of people use them, but enough people don’t that I thought they would be good to share.
I’ll call them PRE, PRESENT and POST. ‘PRE’ is of course before you go to an event where there will be a networking opportunity, ‘PRESENT’ is when you are actually at the event, and ‘POST’ is what you do next.
1- PRE- before the event, it is great to get hold of the list, if possible, of the other people who will be there. At the very least you might be able to find out some of the other organisations who are there and work out if there are people you would particularly like to speak to. LinkedIn is your friend for researching about people. Perhaps you will find that you know some of the people going to the event, online but not in real life. In that case you will already know something about them and have ready-made topics to talk about.
2- PRESENT- At the event itself, you need to take advantage of the different opportunities you have to speak to people. At most events there will be time for signing in, perhaps with a drink, then there will be a more formal part of the evening when there is a guest speaker or presentation (or at the very least, someone from the host organisation will encourage everyone to network) and finally, there will probably be a third less formal part where people can chat and have a drink/food before they go home. If there is someone you really want to meet you have to try to make sure that you get time to do this. For example, if you see them signing in, it might be good to introduce yourself rather than wait until later when you find they have to rush off straight after the talk. If you are feeling confident enough, it can be a good idea to ask a question at the end of the presentation as it gives you the opportunity to give your name and organisation. This will mean that anyone who came to the event wanting to meet you will know who you are, and also that if anyone likes your question it is a topic of conversation when you speak to them afterwards. Of course, even if you definitely have some people that you want to meet or catch up with, you should leave yourself open to the possibility of meeting entirely unexpected people. This is especially important so that ‘cliques’ don’t form: any person should feel that they can introduce themselves to someone else at an event without the other person looking over their shoulder for someone more ‘important’ to talk to. I’ve certainly had this happen to me! If you know at least one other person who is going to be at the event, you can ask them if they know any of the people you want to talk to so that they can start things off with an introduction. Of course it is important at the event itself to have some way of remembering those people that you want to keep in touch with. Exchanging business cards is the obvious solution.
3- POST- If the event has gone well from a networking perspective you may find that you have been drawn in to all sorts of conversations, been introduced to interesting people and covered a wide range of topics. If I am given a list of people before I go to an event or when I get there, as soon as I can after the event I make sure I have marked down all the people that I spoke to (even if, for whatever reason, we didn’t exchange business cards). This means that I don’t forget anyone later. Once I have time, I send out LinkedIn connection requests if I can find people on there and send emails where appropriate to follow things up. Something else you can do which is really appreciated is to publicly thank the organisation who hosted you and perhaps mention the people you met. Twitter is a great way to do this, the tweet could be something like:
‘Enjoyed @charityexperts event, finally got to meet @XCharityCEO and @YCharityTrustee #greateve’. It’s a really nice way to compliment people and raise awareness that the event took place.
Finally, please remember this- although these steps are simple, it doesn’t mean that you are going to get networking right all the time. I don’t, no-one does. What matters is that we can all become more effective at it and do a better job for the organisations we represent at the same time. Also ultimately if everyone approaches networking with the right attitude, then we will collectively create a happy environment where even those who aren’t fond of such events can thrive.