Networking can be a challenge. We picture going to events where everyone stands around making awkward small talk. In reality networking doesn’t just happen at designated events, networking is done all the time, online, at work and in your social life.
On June 10th we held our Network, Network, Network roundtable event with moderator Tamara Paton, Corporate Director and strategy consultant, and panellists Josée Morin, entrepreneur and bilingual Corporate Director, and Jennifer Bouyoukos, Vice President of Talent for ARGUS Software, who shared their insights on networking effectively.
At events: Don’t be afraid to ask questions. In fact, ask the first question. Prepare and do some homework on the speakers and draft questions before you attend. You can also send a speaker an email in advance to introduce yourself and ask a question, which is always better than walking up cold. Having a question prepared is also a great way to approach a group of people. If you don’t have a question then have an icebreaker like ‘you look familiar’ or ‘where do we know each other from?’ Be bold—if you see an empty seat at a table with people that you want to meet, go sit there. The worst that can happen is the person whose seat it is shows up.
Online: Invest in your social network. Whether you use LinkedIn, Twitter or other social media you are as relevant to your network as how visible you are. Connect in groups, with organizations and peers, ‘like’ articles, make comments and engaged others. It’s easy to start relationships and harder to keep them going, so find five key people in your network and keep in touch with them. If you are looking to set up in person meetings always tell people why you want to meet them.
Networking for Corporate Board Appointments
Corporate Directors need to network outside of “the old boy’s network” to expand their talent pool of prospective new board candidates and to gain diversity. So what is the best way to use your network to get noticed to get on corporate boards?
First you have to have an area of expertise that boards are looking for like governance, finance, IT, HR or enterprise risk management. (A corporate board appointment is all about how you can add value to the company with your area of expertise.) Then decide what your entry plan is — are you looking to start by gaining a seat on larger boards, non-profit boards or on advisory boards?
Second, look in your network for people who are connected and ask for their advice on how to present yourself and where you should go to meet your goal. Your networking approach should always be focused on where you want to go next. If you want to join corporate boards in another city start working your network in that city.
Third, set up a meeting. But who do you call on? The chair? A board member that you have something in common with? Use LinkedIn to find out how you are connected to the board. It’s easier to get a meeting through a warm introduction from someone you know. Do research on the person you are meeting with and find out if you can connect on a personal level. Before you contact them make sure this board is where you want to be; if you aren’t passionate about it and there isn’t a connection then don’t pursue it.
Remember to take the long view with networking. Don’t expect conversations to benefit you right away. You have to preserve and be generous for your own sake knowing that it’s going to pay off in the future.