10 Mantras of Effective Networking

Some lessons on Networking learnt as a PhD student and a professional.  Happy to share them on #ClubSciWri. The article was originally published on 13th November, 2016 at http://www.sciwri.club/archives/1689.

Networking is a skill. A skill that some of us may inherently have and some of us have to work hard to develop. I have always been an extrovert. I love people, I can strike conversations, I am comfortable with new people and new settings. However, as a research student I learnt that networking is not all about being an extrovert. Networking is something you have to learn and work very hard at.

My PhD professor would take us along when he attended networking meets or he was giving a talk at an institution. He would introduce us as his student and then leave us to it. While throwing us into the big-bad world of business networking, he inadvertently gave us the required push and set a good example. He encouraged us to get visiting cards made which came very handy even when we networked as students and during the course of primary data work. Being a research student in the management domain, we attend both academic conferences and the business summits and networking is equally important at both. Over the years as an academician, an entrepreneur and a consultant, I have realised that networking skilfully can make impressions and build careers.

I love observing people and for me the gender differences in networking often strike at events. Studies have shown how men are more aggressive at networking and women are shy in a mixed gender group. Also, very few women proactively attend networking meets. Interestingly, in an all women networking event, the conversations steer very differently.

The observations shared henceforth are solely mine and based on my experiences.

1. Networking types There is usually a ‘type’. Some people network aggressively and some assertively. This is often a result of personality types. I have seem assertive networkers do fine, begin on the right note and close conversations well. Personally, aggressive networking is a put-off. I have seen people nudge to get into a group conversation or even interrupt the flow of conversations between two other people. Completely unacceptable.

2. The essence of building a conversation.
It is essential to move from the hello, to an introduction and come to the point of why you want to connect. However, due to the stress of networking, some people have a verbal diarrhoea and some choke. Essential to tell about self, but even more important to listen what the other person does and is interested in.

3. Closing the conversation

Often in large networking groups, you will notice flippant networkers. They move or hop from one person to other. What is important is to ensure that you close the previous conversation well. With some people, you may want to take the dialogue offline and with some, you may see no further benefits. Either case, a polite ‘nice to meet you’ goes a long way, along with closing the conversation track.

4. Following up on the connect established
Send an email to the people thanking for their time and stating a bit of your interest in being connected. Some may fizzle out and some connections may become strong bonds. While this is courteous, it also makes the networking more fruitful.

5. Networking etiquette Some things have to be followed, irrespective of time, space and your eagerness to impress. Do not hog the limelight; listen, appreciate and respond. Be proactive in stating interest in what the other person does. Do not make judgemental statements on community, language or religion. Do not get argumentative. A networking meet is not a place to prove yourself and your thinking as the only right thing. At a networking meet recently, I was asked where am from and a flippant statement about women researchers followed. I understand that people have strong opinions, but that may not have been the best time. I steered clear of that person the rest of the day.

6. Gender differences I personally always find it interesting how women network differently. What I have seen is women invariably ask about spouse or children or place we are from. These often become starting points of discussion. I have rarely seen men talk about family.  But yes, men do ask women about their families. This is just an observation.  I at times like the no nonsense thing of just talking work and work interests. But that is me. I also am allergic when women dumb themselves down to fit in social networking situations.

7. Networking in silos
Even at networking events, people end up networking in silos. This beats the entire purpose of networking.  So, leave that comfort zone and venture out.

8. The appropriate and the inappropriate

We have to be very cognisant of the fact that we do not make statements that are politically incorrect.  Jokes or comments on religion, community, and gender are not ice breakers. Also, there is a fine line between being witty, sarcastic, humorous and being obnoxious.

9. Glass of wine, plate of snacks and intermittent conversations

Nurse that glass of wine, one sip at a time.  Networking events are not for drinking binges.  Try not to be caught with a stuffed mouth, full of chicken tikka or greasy hands from the paneer starter.  This can surely be a put off. 

10. 3 Ps Preparation, Perseverance, Pragmatism. Always prepare.  If you know who you have a chance of meeting at the networking meet, read up about them and their work.  Be persevering.  You may not be able to connect with them in the first few minutes that they join the event.  Take your time.  Be Pragmatic. Networking can't be done at the pace of speed dating. So, be focused, yet relaxed. There is no ideal networking style or moment or outcome.

Networking is a skill that we all are learning along the way.  So keep that smile ready and let the rest follow. Happy networking!


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