The natural networker is at an advantage in the modern world where relationships and connectivity are so vital. The rest of us can reflect on the behaviours and habits of life’s “schmoozers” and apply these to improve our own personal impact.
This posting is based on a short workshop I’ve given at Dundee University for the last few years as part of their OPD researcher developer programme. The slides from the workshop are available on-line through my slideshare account and below.
The slides are hopefully self-explanatory, but there are a few messages I want to emphasise.
The concept of networking and the word itself have pretty heavy connotations of strategic conversations, spotting “useful” people and getting what you want from people. All this is a bit of a turn-off even to those of us who are converts to its value. Far better to stop thinking about networking as a thing that has to happen at a certain time or place – just become familiar with what you want to say and why it is interesting to others and then let the conversations flow more naturally.
Imposter syndrome is a big barrier for many people – there’s a great blog post from Professor Dame Athene Donald : Getting Away with It, which I hope will reassure you if you suffer from this.
There are also additional cultural barriers in academia – we are likely to either be networking in a “foreign” culture or to be networking with people who don’t share our cultural background. Although models of national cultural behaviour are, by definition, sweeping generalisations, they are also useful starting points. We mention two:
(Interesting that they are both Dutch. Is that a national stereotype?)
The fantastic jobs.ac.uk site also carries country profiles which may be useful background when talking to people.
There’s far more “give” than “take” in networking – it is much easier to think about the value you can give to other people than worrying about how you will ask them to give you something. Focus instead on what you can offer – these ideas are expanded in the slides.
Use social media to develop and sustain relationships before and after face-to-face meetings. Contribute your ideas and opinions if you have something to add to another researcher’s postings and be generous in sharing information. Hopefully the karma fairy will pay you back when you need it.
I’ve found this excellent blog post from Rosie Redfield on Conference Social Skills. Her very wise words are consistent with my own messages in this workshop. I found this great blog post via another – Athene Donald’s post on Conferences and Courage. Both are strongly recommended.
We talked about the importance of first impressions – here are some of the ideas we shared:
when you describe your research think about the key facts and memorable highlights that you want to leave in people’s minds. How do you want them to describe you in a few words if they talk about you later to someone else? Are you giving them these phrases in the way you introduce yourself?
aim to make the interaction an exchange of information; ask questions and encourage the other person by smiling and nodding as they talk; try to put them at their ease. Leave gaps in the conversation so they can come in and talk about their work. If the person you are talking to seems nervous, focus on the things they are competent on in order to build their confidence.
look for common ground in terms of interests, background, shared motivations.
convey your enthusiasm through your body language, the tone of your voice, smiling, being relaxed as you talk about why your work is important and interesting.
if you think there is an issue because of age, gender, your topic etc look for ways to convey your credibility – explain where you are from and who you work for (if this helps)
make it clear where to go next – ask the person for a card or if they mind connecting with you through social media, suggest a time to catch up later in the day, or simply thank them for their time and say you enjoyed talking with them.
The links on the session handout are: