I’ve started a new lunch-and-learn series, the second of which is about purposeful networking. This based primarily on my previous posts on this topic, incorporating some new ideas based on reading and reviewing my own networking approach. So far, around 100 people have attended and participated in these lunch-and-learn sessions, and the feedback has been positive. My objective is to enable others to establish for themselves a purposeful network as a lifelong resource for their career and professional development.
I’ve started a new lunch-and-learn series, the first of which is about goal setting. This based primarily on my previous posts on this topic, incorporating some new ideas based on reading and reviewing my own goal setting approach. I’ve been making new year goals and resolutions, along with setting priorities, for several years, I’ve incorporated the anti-resolution approach to reducing the behaviours I don’t like or am not proud of. So far, around 100 people have attended and participated, and the feedback has been positive. My objective is to enable others to establish for themselves their own goal and resolutions and have a better chance of achieving those.
The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick), by Seth Godin. Pub 2007
I was led to this brief book via this article. I'm dealing with some team issues at work (people leaving), and I am struggling to understand the choices that people are making. I wasn't (seriously) looking at quitting myself, but to make sense of why others were. The article didn't really help with that, but I was intrigued by the idea that smart people can realistically rationalize quitting, so I picked up this book. I'd read a few blog posts and articles (mostly in Fast Company) by Seth Godin, and a few books by the illustrator Hugh McLeod, so I was expecting something pretty good, if not great. Sadly, I was disappointed.
Scenario: you're at a conference event, and you find yourself seated next to someone you don't know. You introduce yourself and go through the usual back and forth. "What do you do?", "How long have you been with the company?", "Where did you go to school?" And then...awkward silence.
At this point, the default actions are a) turn to someone else and repeat the exercise, b) take out your phone to check your messages (or send out a distress signal), or c) pretend to see someone you do know and move. None of these are great, or effective networking.
Often when we're first introduced to someone, the standard questions seem like the important pieces of information we'll need to know or remember (even if we probably won't). They seem informative and safe, likely because they are the questions we're prepared to answer ourselves. They are the verbal equivalent of exchanging LinkedIn profiles, and don't tell us much more than the statistics of our new contact. They are also (likely) not very memorable, and so a few hours or weeks later when we meet the same person, we may struggle with remembering those mundane details.
Behold a solution. This great little primer on networking and starting a meaningful conversation with a new contact. These outside-the-box suggestions for questions work because they are NOT mundane. You can start with the softball ordinary ones but adding a few of these to your roster will help when the normal pleasantries don't succeed in breaking the ice, or when you need to occupy some additional time.
I especially like, "What are you looking forward to?" This open-ended, forward-looking question can be interpreted as being about the conference event you're at, individual work goals, or life in general, so can open up a lot of areas of dialogue and give you some insight into someone's focus and priorities. Similarly, “What excites you right now?” can fulfill a similar purpose.
While I’m supportive of this approach to unusual questions, I would be wary about getting too personal too quickly. “What do you do for fun?” can sound a bit like a pick-up line rather than a work-appropriate conversation, and “Who’s your favourite superhero?” might be seen as flippant or juvenile, depending on the venue and audience (whom you don’t yet know well or at all). Maybe save these ones for a follow-up meeting.
As always, you should be prepared to answer the same question back, so think about how you will answer these if asked. You don’t have to have a speech memorized but do give some thought to what you might say. Remember that conversations always have two sides, so you should expect to participate beyond asking interesting questions.
Because you won't always be able to start with, "I love your hat!"
One of the steps to achieving a purposeful network is to, well, network. A common opportunity is a networking event – usually a reception of some kind, with people mingling over finger food and hovering around a cash bar. Conferences almost always have one at the beginning of the event – a welcome reception where all attendees are encouraged to congregate and mix with their colleagues and meet new people.
For those with less-than-extroverted personalities or who are newish to their field, these events are daunting – a sea of people in loose conglomerations of familiarity, a noisy and (depending on how long the event has been open) boisterous crowd, an unwelcoming assemblage of mostly unfamiliar faces, perhaps even some famous folks. But look closely and you’ll also see kindreds – individuals with a plate or a drink, shyly moving around and outside the crowds, looking just like you feel: like they’d rather be anywhere else, thinking when can they reasonably leave.
One of the elements of purposeful networking I described in Part 1 was goal setting. When attending a networking event, make a plan and have some goals. Like any good project plan, these will enable to you spend your time at the event purposefully, and to know when you’re done. I applied this approach at a recent conference.
Before arriving, I prepared by making myself knowledgeable about the who and what of the event. For the who, I reviewed the list of attendees and made note of people I knew and people that I wanted to meet (always with the “give to get” principle in mind). Then I reviewed the agenda, and noted which events I was going to be attending and who the presenters were for those. I didn’t memorize these, but I was familiar enough with them that I felt I could remember names and connections.
For the networking event (officially, the welcome reception), my goals were to meet four people:
At the welcome reception, I was able to achieve all four of these objectives. Right away, I saw someone from my “home” and said hello and chatted briefly about travel to the conference, the accommodations, the sessions we were looking forward to, the status of some work we were both involved in, other people that we were anticipating seeing at the conference. Next, I saw some of the conference organizing team talking together; I knew a few of them, but not all, so at a break in the conversation I said hello to the people I knew, and was introduced to the others. I had different connections with these people – the conference but also shared activities like teaching and mentoring – so the talk was no longer small.
After a while, I moved on to mingle. I walked through the room and around the outside of the main tables and circles. There was a woman standing on her own; she had a hand-written name tag, which I knew meant she was a late-registrant. I went over to her and initially we talked about what we both were in that moment: wallflowers. Although I’d been actively connecting for the past 20 minutes, I was taking a break and found a like-minded person. Turned out, she had only recently moved to Canada and was exploring career options in our field. As luck would have it, I’d just been speaking with someone who was looking for resources in her field, and did she want to meet them? Yes, please! We moved through the crowd to where I’d been talking with connections new and old just a few minutes previously. I introduced my new connection to the one who was looking for resources, and was clear about why I thought they’d be interested in one another. We all chatted for a while, learning about each others backgrounds, experience, needs, and opinions, and established good connections. After a while, I excused myself, and after a few more minutes of mingling…I left. Mission accomplished, in 45 minutes.
Having written all this out, I realize that it sounds cold and predatory – targeting specific types of people to check-off a to-do list, and getting out as quickly as possible. But it is only the how, not the why. Having a plan and a list of goals is a tool to accomplishing purposeful networking, but you still need to ensure that the connections you make are real and meaningful, or they really don’t “count” as connections. And the goal is NOT be to get through this as quickly as possible, but to be efficient and comfortable – while this may not be fun, it shouldn’t be tortuous.
Some other tips:
All of this is active well-digging – building and maintaining your network, keeping it active, and giving it purpose.
In my next post, I’ll give some examples of poor networking approaches, and discuss LinkedIn as a tool for networking.
Who is Robyn?
My career as a research project manager is rewarding, dynamic, challenging, and fun. I'm looking forward to sharing my knowledge and experience in communication, organization, and common sense approaches in research management and leadership, and to enabling others to learn and grow in this exciting career.