The art of networking

By Lucy Gower

Pause for a moment and think about what you do when you are deciding to buy something. It might be which smartphone to get, or the best place to eat in your area, where to go on holiday, or which charity to support.

Most of us either ask other people or go online and look at reviews. Whether it’s online, face-to-face or most likely a combination of both, marketers know that a personal recommendation from a trusted source is far more valuable than a company asking customers to ‘Buy the new phone – it’s great!’ or a charity saying ‘We do great work – give to us.’

The value of recommendations from trusted relationships applies to any situation where you are influencing someone to make a change. This means that whatever your fundraising role, your ability to get the job done relies on your relationships, and that relies on your ability to network.

When I run networking training I ask, ‘Who likes networking?’ Usually a maximum of 10% of the room raises their hand.

For the majority of us, being asked to network evokes a deep sense of fear and anxiety – and often a visceral objection to the word ‘networking’ itself!

Given that pretty much everything in life is about relationships, fundraising included, tackling your fear of networking is a good use of time. Here are some of my simple tips to try the next time you have to turn up to a room full of strangers and ‘network’, that will help the experience become more palatable; not to mention productive. And who knows, you may even enjoy it…!

 

Plan your journey to the networking event.  Allow plenty of time so you arrive as relaxed as possible. Before you go in, take a moment to focus on why you are there. Do you want to meet an old colleague, get introduced to someone specific, or learn about a new topic?

Adopt a ‘go-giver’ attitude.  The purpose of networking is to help and add value to the people you meet. For anyone you talk to think ‘what can I give and how can I help them?’

Ask about their favourite topic – them! Everyone loves talking about themselves. If you find conversation isn’t coming easily, just ask open questions: Why did you come here? What are you working on? What do you do?

Look for what you have in common. Do you both work for a non-profit? What are the common problems you face? Do you both live in the same town, support the same team, drink in the same pub?  You are just looking for something in common to help build rapport – it doesn’t have to be work related.

Move on. You don’t have to stay talking to someone if you feel you are struggling. You can politely excuse yourself to get another drink, or because you have spotted someone you promised to talk to. Stand at an angle to the other person and face the room so you can invite others to the conversation as well as see a clear exit route.

You’re not alone. Remember. Everyone in the room, whatever their role, seniority or status, will at some point have experienced the same feelings of fear and apprehension that you may be feeling.

And finally.  Practice these tips on friends and colleagues. Then go and find a networking event and practice them there.

Networking is an important skill and if you can build your confidence it will reap rewards for you, both personally and professionally.

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