Networking is a vital skill for all learning & development practitioners. But it can be a daunting effort for even the most socially savvy. Here are some tips on how to get the most out of face-to-face networking events.
I run a network for people who are passionate about learning, and my in-company members often say this is the only networking event they attend. Networking is often perceived as being about gaining business – something salespeople ‘do’. However, I find the value of networking is far wider than this – it can enable you to learn from others, share ideas, benchmark, share good practice, ask questions, solve problems and to get out and be social.
With over 30 years of networking experience, I have picked up along the way some useful tips on how to make the most out of face-to-face networking events. I hope you find these useful:
Before the event...
Ask yourself Why? What? Where? Who? When?
Why do you want to attend an event? For a trainer, the advantages of networking could include checking out a venue, learning about a new subject, and meeting with peers.
What do you want to get from the event? Attending a networking event without having an objective is like getting into a taxi cab and not knowing what your destination is. Your objective could be to meet a specific person, get three ideas to use in a session, or to ask the group a question.
Where? Quality or quantity? Local or national? With your peers or with generalists? There are no rights and wrongs – once you clarify your objectives for networking, it will then be easier to decide where. I personally prefer to attend L&D conferences, trade fairs and my own network group, so I can be with my peers.
Who? I often network with trainers who may get requests for management training and who do not offer that – we can then work together to refer clients to each other.
When? Networking is often one of those things that we don’t make time for because it isn’t a top priority – it isn’t urgent, even if it is important. It can often get squeezed from the priority matrix. I build in diary time to ensure that networking does happen. Remember, it is often who we know rather than what we know in life.
During and after the event...
We work with, help and refer the people who we know, like and trust – this is the Know-Like-Trust (KLT) model.
“People won’t remember what you’ve said, but they will remember how you made them feel” (anon).
You need to get known, which means being able to meet people and enable people to get to know you, your uniqueness and what you do.
This is about brand building – each of us has a brand, and we need to let people know what are our skills, what case studies we have, and what people say about us.
Be your authentic self – but you at your best. Getting known is vital for in-company trainers, so you can really let your colleagues know what you can do for the business.
If you want to be remembered, work on being approachable and likeable. Learn the art of small talk, the art of putting people at their ease. Listen more than you talk. Ask questions to get to know people – you can then connect them with people who share commonalities.
Trust is an emotional relationship. We feel trust when people are reliable, do what they say they will do, and are generous in spirit – they give. I have often been promised things at networking events – “I have a list I can send you” or “I will send you their information”, and it has never arrived. How has the trust account been affected?
Think of what you can give and, once promised, you must follow it up. Think of what you can give others to help them in their role – advice, a how-to guide, ideas, a checklist, connections, leads and referrals. We trust people who help us, and who follow through on their promises.
You must build time into the diary immediately, or soon after, the event to follow up on the promises you make. This is being professional.
I hope my guidance here inspires you to create a plan for your networking.
When you start to plan, and use the KLT approach for before, during and after the event you will not look back.