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Many organisations are changing from a traditional hierarchy to becoming ‘networked’. That means that your next move and your success inside – or outside – your organisation is dependent on your ability to network successfully. As ever, it’s not just what you know, but who you know. In the virtual world, opportunities for effective networking have been massively reduced. This can make progress tricky and much more difficult to measure. We checked in with our resident networking guru, Daniel Hunt, to find out how to make the most of networking in our new world.

Effective networking is mostly common sense. For some strange reason, common sense goes out the window when we’re faced with a networking event or dedicated networking time. Often the situation feels a bit fake and the environment staged, so networking can feel forced and awkward.
Daniel Hunt

We lose our self-confidence and that can lead to a lack of authenticity. We might feel more inclined to pretend to be someone we’re not. If we can remind ourselves to breathe, take the common-sense approach and be our genuine, authentic selves, we’re half way to making effective and meaningful connections.

With those positive words, Dan gets us motivated, energised and ready to learn more!

Networking group

We’ve all been in the situation of being asked by a manager to attend a networking event, or deciding for ourselves that this ‘will be good for me, get me out of my comfort zone.’ Arriving at the venue everything feels awkward and the internal voice begins: I don’t know anyone. Where do I start? How do I make sure I get value from this? What does a win look like?

When it comes to effective networking, I always think that a win is when you learn more than you give away.

That old cliché that there’s a reason we have two ears, and one mouth is really true for networking. The worst thing you could do is to push your own agenda rather than listening to someone else and learning about them. Networking is all about human connection. If you’re only focused on when and how quickly you can tell as many people as possible about your product, you’re missing the great opportunity to hear who they are and what they really want. Making a human connection can be as simple as talking about the coffee but can lead you to understand much more about the person and their current situation. Understanding that is the starting point to building a relationship.

Approaching every interaction with the question in your own mind ‘How can I help or support this person?’ will give you a completely different mindset, help you to listen more and talk less and truly hear what the person is saying. Remember that helping or supporting doesn’t necessarily have to relate directly to your product or service, you might not be able to help specifically but might know someone who can. Knowing what somebody likes, wants or needs and making that connection makes a difference to the person you’re talking to and that’s the start of building a relationship. 

making a human connection

That’s great advice for face-to-face situations, but what about in the virtual world?

There are three things that are different in the virtual world: Time, space and capacity. Time we would have spent when we arrive early at the venue of an event or meeting has disappeared because the event starts when the host lets us in. There’s no time to chat to the person next to me, no time beyond just work. Space to talk has gone because everyone can hear everything all the time. Capacity – and by that I mean mental capacity – is also reduced because everyone can see us all, all the time. When the meeting starts and the camera light goes on on your laptop, you are ‘on’ until the break. When the break comes you really need it because it’s not normal to be ‘on’ all the time.

Networking over coffee

Things can feel even more transactional in the virtual world – especially as meetings have been reduced to the absolute minimum duration. A four-hour in-person meeting would have given attendees the time, space and opportunity to chat to someone on the way in and out, to connect during coffee breaks and on the way to the breakout sessions. Close to an hour of the four would have been spent specifically not talking about work. Shorter meetings seem like a good idea until you realise that they are a concentrated block of only work and nothing else.

Successful meetings make time for breaks, socialising and natural networking.

At the beginning of full virtual working in early 2020 someone with a very loud voice said that people couldn’t sit in front of a screen for four hours and the world listened. It’s fine to spend that amount of time at your screen if you’re using it in a way that is relevant for the attendees. That’s the reason we’ve been specifically working with our clients to build out dedicated fun sessions and specific networking sessions as part of longer agendas. We all need human contact that goes beyond work. As virtual working has become a long-term reality, we’re on a mission to provide those golden opportunities for spontaneous interactions and non-work learning.

spontaneous interactions and non-work learning

Even when it comes to networking, we have to consider that there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ solution. We don’t all work or react in the same way around meeting new people or talking to those we don’t know well. ‘Props’ we used to rely on to support us are gone. There’s no shared view out of the window we can comment on if we have nothing to say, no shared experience of drinking bad coffee together that can help get a conversation started. There’s just you and me staring at each other through our screens. Human interaction relies on us finding things we have in common and that’s much harder in the virtual world with fewer clues.

The worst thing that could happen when you’re in that situation is that you roll out your elevator pitch in an attempt to connect with someone, to reach common ground. As soon as you do that, you’ve killed the best opportunity you had to make a connection.

 So what are the top tips Dan would offer us to improve our networking?

First up, three top tips for meeting planners:

01
It’s better to have a meeting that goes longer with an opportunity for people to connect on non-work topics than to shorten it and focus only on work.

02
Don’t assume that everyone is comfortable connecting in the same way.

03
Fun is so important to general morale as well as facilitating real connections. Make sure it’s a part of your agenda.

For attendees and those looking to network, my top tips would be:

01
Always keep the question ‘How can I help this person?’ top of mind.

02
Listen more than you talk – the connection you need to make will often present itself.

03
Be yourself. Often easier said than done but so important.

Networking can lose its fun when it gets regarded as going into battle. Pressure can come that you need to put on your company armour and get your weapons ready to go and fight, to hunt for names and addresses and to tell as many people as humanly possible what you’ve got to offer and how wonderful you are. Not true. As Sun Tzu says in ‘The Art of War’ “Every battle is won before it is fought.” Stay focused, stay true to yourself and you’ll make lasting connections to add to your network. That’s more valuable than any number of business cards collected.

And with that, we add Dan to our list of valuable connections, just as he adds us to his network.

Would you like help creating meaningful networking opportunities for your meeting attendees? Are you – like us – passionate about keeping human connections alive in the virtual world? Get in touch with your nearest Audience office and ask us how we can help.
You can learn more about Dan here or connect with him on LinkedIn here.

Published December 2020

Daniel Hunt

Client Services Manager

Meet Daniel
A world of constant change

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