Personnel Today recently published an article on the differences in how men and women network. It makes for some really interesting reading and as a great believer in networking as a business tool and as a confirmed serial networker ( I would actually go to the opening of an envelope), it gave me some food for thought.
The article maintains that men and women network in different ways, men are more confident in talking about their achievements and women tend to try and build relationships, which may mean that women build more meaningful contacts. I’m not so sure about this, I do believe in the power of relationships but there are different ways to build these which are not exclusive to either sex.
One point I did agree on is that it can be very daunting to walk into a room full of people and try to strike up a conversation, one of my bosses from many moons ago suggested ‘just sidle up to someone and join in’ and, while I’ve used this as an entry point, you can suffer from being politely ignored by the rest of the group.
So what is the answer to successful networking, well I think it’s a plethora of things from the very basic eye contact, nice handshake to making yourself memorable. In my desperation to improve my networking skills over the years, I’ve asked some expert networkers for their tips and here are some that I’d like to share :
- Smile, smile and smile – very few people don’t respond to a nice genuine smile and sometimes will actually stop talking and smile back, a great way to break into a conversation!
- Look like you are having fun – Look like you are having fun, you don’t need to be the life and soul but look lively and engaged, people like to talk to people who look happy and interested.
- Find a kindred spirit – If you really find you are too nervous to approach a group, look for someone in the room standing on their own and approach them, so long as they are not wielding an axe! People on their own are always glad to speak to others and before you know it, you’ll have your own little group as people join you.
- Plan – whatever event you are going to, try and find out who will be there and a bit about their business and background, you can use this very effectively during the evening.
- Keep up to date – Whatever event you are attending, make sure you are current with the issues that are going to be discussed so that you can maintain your interest and offer comment, I’ve found this makes you more memorable.
- Follow-up – always send a nice email or letter to those that you meet afterwards – there is more chance you will be remembered.
- Remember new contacts – Business cards are great, write on the back of the person’s business card a little about them so that you can remember who they are and what they might be interested in, for next time you meet or to send that nice email!
- And if all else fails remember ….everyone in the room probably feels just as nervous as you do!
As human beings we rarely set out to be rude or intentionally dismissive so nine times out of 10 when you approach a group at a networking event you will be welcomed. It’s what you do with your network that actually counts and gender is no barrier to that.