I just read an excellent blog post on networking like a "pro" at conferences on the Linex Systems website, and since it’s trade show season, the tips provided are very timely. But what about internal networking? Can some of the principles that make conference networking less scary also make interacting with our own organizational leaders less intimidating?
As author Pip Christie points out, “the most prominent advantage of attending in-person events is the opportunity to network.” For some of us, that’s easier said than done. As Ms. Christie states, “…it is all too easy to be [either] overcome with fear of looking like a fool, or lack of confidence…” I don’t know about you, but I’ve been overcome with that fear and/or that lack on many occasions within the walls of my own organizations! The useful networking tips in the blog post are terrific for conference and trade show attendees, and also apply to interactions with top leaders and other department heads on the home front.
Process, not Project
Ms. Christie’s conference networking tips (slightly reworded for the purposes of this post) are extremely useful for the internal networking that we all must do in order to build personal and departmental visibility, and demonstrate relevance.
- Try to build specific times for connecting with company leaders and department heads into your schedule; don’t just rely on it happening by accident.
- Get straight on your networking objectives – decide who you should connect with and why, and do a bit of research on them in advance; perhaps you’ll find out that the CEO is interested in a topic on which someone in your department is uniquely positioned to educate her.
- Develop your “elevator pitch.” Yes, sometimes a networking opportunity does happen by accident—and you should be prepared. If you meet the CFO in the elevator, tell him how much money you’ve saved by switching 50% of your content from print to digital, or that you came in under budget for the current quarter.
- If you’re having trouble getting started, focus on the other person, rather than on yourself—per librarian Carolyn Doi, “when in doubt, ask them what they’re working on at the moment.”
- Follow up—you’ve opened the door; carry on with what’s necessary to keep it open. That could mean a "thank you" email, forwarding an article of interest, or asking for their help with a specific project. Keep following up—networking isn’t a one-time thing.
Ms. Christie ends her post with this great piece of advice, equally applicable to conference attendance and internal networking: “Whatever you do, don’t take things too personally. If somebody doesn’t engage with you, chances are it’s nothing to do with your attempt to build a connection. They may simply be preoccupied…”
If you don’t get the engagement you seek from someone at a conference, you can just move on—there are hundreds of other connections you can make. When you are networking internally, though, that isn’t an option. The best thing to do is try a few different approaches. Perhaps the CFO only likes to talk about the company financials in official meetings, but he might appreciate being asked for his advice on negotiating contracts. Put your research skills to work and find out how best to open the door. Then, walk right on through it.