Back in the pre-Covid days, I once ran a short course in networking with researchers at the University of Glasgow. We had some fun, they picked up some useful techniques and strategies and we role-played joining a group of people we didn’t know. Afterwards, one person stayed behind and spoke about how hard she found networking, especially as she is in a very male-dominated environment.
“These men use conferences as a way of seeing their friends and catching up. I never manage to get into their conversations. I’m not an extrovert. What can I do about it?”
I came up with a few suggestions:
- Befriend a colleague and go to the event with them.
- Scrutinise the list of attendees and decide on a couple of people you’d like to meet. Work out what you’d like to ask them in advance.
- Remember that everyone likes talking about themselves especially – sorry guys – especially men. (As any woman who has sat next to a man at a formal or business dinner will testify!)
- Read up on the latest in your field and come up with good questions. Being good at asking questions is the key to good networking. Then listen to the answers and use what they say to ‘boomerang’ you into the next question. “Oh you think that XYZ could be the answer?” And especially: “What was it that led you into your field?”
- Give yourself a role. Eg Host behaviour. How does a host behave? They look after people, get them drinks, introduce them to other people and so on. It is often easier being a host, as you have something positive to do. You can adopt some of the same strategies, even when only a guest yourself.
- Try establishing an online relationship with some people in your field. Then when you meet them in the flesh, you will already have established some rapport.
We are likely to attend online events into the future, so try the same techniques in breakout rooms, if you have a chance to socialise. When you go into situations with other people back in the room, don’t try and do too much to begin with. Have a conversation with one or two people and pat yourself on the back for having done so!