Thursday, 17 February 2011

Networking – A Serious Game

First published in 2008 - report of the second networking workshop

After the first networking workshop I left with a feeling of confirmation… the feeling that the one thing I’m doing rather intuitively and in which I’m actually good at is something that is a valuable skill and should be exploited, and not just something that is to be taken for granted. So my confidence got a real boost.

When I then went for it, I hit the brick wall a few times, and the harder I tried the more scared and confused I got. Something was missing! When I entered this second workshop I felt less confident in being able to do good networking than before. So I was rather tense: I had visitors from work sitting in an office not far, and thus hoping that my boss wouldn’t need me, I hadn’t have time to prepare at all, my paperwork from the last workshop was at home and not in my bag, had even forgotten what I had written about the first one, and there was a rather big likelihood of not being able to remember a single name.

Scatterbrain mode!

Well, in the end of the day this turned out to be a good thing. Heather, the coach, instantly tapped into it, turning this odd feeling of lack of confidence and focus into something productive.
Some catching up on previous outcomes
On catching up on the outcome of the first workshop it turned out that we more or less came from two different types of make-up.
The nerds!
One group of highly skilled people who know about their skills, but were not sure how to bring them across to the right people to give their career a boost. However, for two of them it had worked: They had braced themselves after the last workshop, have been talking to the right people and changed their careers to the better, and a lot of the others are on their way. Good for them!

The scatter brains!
The other group are more ‘jack of all trades’ kind of people, who are good in a lot of things, but just not good enough that they feel like showing it off. Usually we don’t have a degree in what we are best at and feel confident doing the job as long as a real expert is not around. We are always hoping for others to tell us that we actually are having a high level of expertise already, we need the praise to believe in ourselves, and we are hoping that networking might find us such people and open doors to opportunities which are not too scary to go through. Well, that is at least the truth I had to face – however, I have a hunch that this is not too far from it for some of the others as well.

After we had told our stories Heather tailored the workshop according to what was needed for us bunch of people.

Working a room
The first part was about 'working a room'. Basically: How to get into a group and how to break out of a group.

According to Deborah Tannen in 'You just don’t understand', women mostly use language to bond, while men mostly use language to transport information. Which is one reason why guys are often more straight forward in saying what they want. This, in female eyes, blunt approach is not useful for bonding – for that you have to give a lot of reasons and stories around the information itself. These different styles in communication reflect in the body language and in group structures as well.

Luckily, we had one gentleman attending and Heather used the poor bloke quite a bit to demonstrate that guys usually avoid eye contact (threatening) and are not standing opposite each other but fan open a bit. Therefore easy to approach, but be prepared and not bothered that they won’t look at you while talking as long as the rest of the body language shows interest. However, if you would see guys closed in and looking at each other while talking – never, ever try to barge in! Serious business going on there and you will not want to interrupt that.

In my experience ladies in a group are more difficult as they stand closer and look at each other. To get in, you would need to know one of them, have something really interesting to contribute, or catch an eye with one of them signalling: yes you can come in!

Important note: The real action happens AFTER you have met people. What they remember of you and what they talk about you behind your back can make or break a career.

Although the meeting might not have gone as well as you would have wished for: If your first impression was good and you managed to relieve them off your presence before they get really bored: They may even keep you in a good memory and talk good about you in a pivotal moment of your career.
Another important note: Practice, practice, practice!

Observe and throw yourself out there whenever possible. Start using occasions which don’t really matter, learn from it, raise the stakes a bit more every time. Take little risks. We usually can’t plan for when this little window of opportunity will open. You may have a bad hair day and might be lacking sleep… that’s not the moment to start practicing.

Moving about in a networking environment is a bit like driving a car. At the beginning you have to concentrate on every move, once you practice it sinks into the subconscious and becomes reflex. You start driving in streets you know and then you move on to bigger distance, wider streets. The same applies for networking. One day certain body language will just come natural – and you will be able to not only see the window of opportunity but to dare tackling it.

As for the breaking away: As soon as you realise boredom – cut your story short, kindly say your farewell and move on to the next group. You don’t want to waste your time with people who are not interested in you and you don’t want to waste their time either. So we practiced a lot of handshaking and introducing ourselves, gave each other feedback on how we come across, had a lot of fun, and – although we knew each other already - a bit of getting out of the comfort zone as well.

This was recognised as very useful and important advice from all of us, although I have a hunch that the instant benefit is more for the group of skilled people. The ones who know what they want and who can go straight away to deliver their message.

I might be well able to break into or out of a group now, but I wouldn’t actually know what to tell them: ‘Good morning, my name is Rika. I’m a scatterbrain!’ Not really a career booster, is it?

Branding and networking strategy
So, the rest of the workshop was about branding ourselves and networking strategy ( more). And again Heather nailed it! She delivered everything I needed in order to take the next steps.

And it will be tough!

It goes so much beyond networking. I will have to dig deep and do some soul searching. I have a vision, but I can’t see it as a real picture. It’s all on a: ‘Would be so nice’ – level. It needs to be shifted to a: ‘I will do that!’ – level. I will need to sit down and make one of my infamous lists to find out the action points. And then I will have to go out there and make it happen.

Slightly in panic mode now!

However, the alternative is to sit back, put the legs up, eat sweets and watch East Enders. There is no in-between. Just being nice and a good girl with a decent skill set won’t be enough. There will be no knight on a white horse coming and bringing me to the goal line a bit closer. I will have to march there on my own feet every single step. And if I’m lucky I will  find a few good companions who will walk with me and flatten the ground once in a while or pick me up when I’m down.

Yet another important note: Networking is nothing but a tool!
Networking might inspire some ideas on what you want to achieve, but in the end of the day it is nothing but a tool that brings you from A to B. What implicates that you have to have an A and a B in the first place.

A: You will have to define who you really are. Which skills you have, which of those you would like to use more than others and which ones you would like to improve, what sort of life you lead, where your priorities are, …

B: You will have to develop your vision, pinning down WHAT YOU WANT for your future!

If you have that sorted, then networking is a wonderful tool to help make your vision come true.

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