Networking now: how to start building meaningful connections

Finding a networking setting that suits you is key to building your confidence, making connections and enjoying the process, says the author of The Personal Board of You Inc Emma Maslen

We all hope that life is a meritocracy and that we will advance into the world of work and up our chosen career path based on our knowledge and skills alone. Unfortunately, if the right people in the right places don’t know you, how will they recognise what you can offer? This is where your network comes in.

The word ‘networking’ might conjure up a room full of strangers where you are expected to go and mingle to make some new, meaningful connections. Virtually no-one I know enjoys these situations, myself included, and it is only very rarely that a good connection will come out of such an event.

Test your strengths and energy

When building your network, try to work out your preferences for the types of networking you enjoy. To do this, you will have to try a few different environments and observe your feelings in each one.

While it’s easy to generalise and say that you hate all networking environments, it’s very rare for someone to hate every single environment where networking can occur.

You just have to try it out – big groups, small groups, some contacts you know, complete strangers, one-to-ones, and so on. Then, rather than thinking about any outcomes at this point, think about how the events made you feel – just focus on observing where your energy is.

After identifying which you enjoyed, seek more of those types of environments to test your theories. Explore a good sample of settings to understand what you feel comfortable with.

Great places to get ideas for all types of networking events include: Institute of Directors, Eventbrite, London & Partners and Google Campus. If you need a few tips on the actual chit-chat part of networking, Nigel Risner offers some great tips in You Had Me At Hello, The New Rules for Better Networking. [Please note that this has nothing to do with Tom Cruise and the film, Jerry Maguire.] Risner’s tips include going to a Toastmasters event, which is a very safe space for people looking to build their confidence in networking environments.

Once you have built up your confidence in yourself and found the networking environments that suit you, networking will become something you enjoy, rather than a chore you have to endure.

Pennies in the jar

Our working lives are long. Having started to build your network, you have to nurture it. Think of it as putting pennies in the jar for the time when you need to call on your network for help.

A wide network of people you have only briefly met and not followed up in any meaningful way with is not nearly as powerful as a small network that you are actively engaged with. Think of your network as a group of connections that gets stronger the more you give to them. The giving can just be building a reciprocal relationship; in other words, spending time and sharing ideas.

Once you have established a strong network of connections, the help you ask for – be it for an introduction for a job interview, or a connection to a certain industry you’re looking at breaking into – will be much more valuable and likely to yield a positive result.

Finally, it’s important to always follow up with anyone who offers you help and support. We all want to help, but there is nothing more frustrating than not hearing back with an update once that help has been given.

Emma Maslen is a business coach, CEO and founder of inspir‘em and an angel investor through Angel Academe. She is also the author of The Personal Board of You Inc which explores the importance of networking and finding advisors to help individuals achieve their goals

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