Networking 101 – Part 1

Ever since I started university, everyone around me talked about the importance of networking. Phases such as, “it’s not what you know but who you know” and “your network is your net worth” swirled around in my head. I was often told to “go network” but no one ever really teach me how. They often said, “Just go talk to people”, but how? What should I said? They would then replied vaguely, “Just introduce yourself”.

Your Network is Your Net Worth!!

My understanding of networking over the year was therefore attending professional networking events to meet other professionals, where we would introduce ourselves, exchange handshakes and business cards over finger food and cocktails. At the end of the night, I’ll have a business card collection, which I’ll diligently organized them in my rolodex.  I never looked at them again (well, until I need help from these professionals).

How delusional and wrong I was.

Master How To Network Well!

I quickly learnt that I had to master networking as my career shifted from research to business development three years ago. I can no longer hide in the comfort zone of the research lab. My new role required me to be the face of the company, interacting with existing and potential clients in various conferences, trade shows and other business events.

I was very blessed to have the opportunity to shadow the company’s owner and technical director at business meetings when I started. I observed closely and made physical and mental notes on their every move. They demonstrated the standard of professionalism I needed to achieve.

I needed help, serious help and quick. I was once again blessed to have met my mentors–ironically, through my network–who are exceptional with people and are masters at networking.

My mentors taught me that networking is simply relating to people by being genuinely interested in people.

It all starts with a smile and “Hello, how are you?” or “How’s your day going”? It was not, “Hello, nice to meet you. My name is Alvina Foo and I work for…” Over the years I learnt that the content of the ice breaking line is not crucial as long as you capture the other person’s attention. There is no need and no rush to share my work history or my life story with someone I just met. That time will come. Be patience.

Once I have the other person’s attention, I ask about them, because everyone’s favourite topic is himself or herself. For example, if we are in a trade show, I would ask, “What are you excited about the show?” If we are in a professional networking event, I would ask, “How did you get started in your profession?” Once they open up to me, I listen attentively, to find common grounds to relate my experience to their experience.

2 Important Lessons on Relating to People

My mentors taught me two important lessons on relating to people:

1) I am given two eyes, two ears and one mouth. I need to use them in such ratio. That is, listen and observe twice as much as I speak.
2) In any conversation, find common ground to get to higher ground.

Where is the higher ground? It varies depending on the situation and what I want to achieve. At a trade show, I would like to meet new potential clients. I would therefore find out what brings the client to the show and offer products that can help meet their needs.

At a professional networking event, I would like to expand my network. I would therefore ask to exchange contacts with the other person to stay in touch. If I want to learn more about another person’s profession, I would go one step further and ask whether I can share a coffee with them to build deeper rapport.

No matter which scenario it is, I always follow up with my new connections within a week, ideally within 24 to 48 hours. The time frame is important to show my earnest interest to further build rapport and develop friendship. I also want to reconnect while the other person’s memory of me is still fresh. I never assume or expect the other person will reach out to me first. I always take initiative to stay in touch. Therefore I always ask to exchange contact or at the very least obtain the other person’s contact.

There you have it – the steps by steps guide on how to start a conversation in any event.

Here are some final tips on networking:
1) Dress to impress in a professional manner.
2) Firm but not overly firm handshake.
3) Remains good eye contact (i.e. not staring) with the person you are interacting with.
4) Remember to breath and smile! Smile is the best outfit for all of us.

I will share do’s and don’ts in various scenario in Networking – Part 2. Stay tuned!

Alvina is a Food Science Professional (R&D, QA, CI) & Brand Builder


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