Networking: top tips from our recent event

November 23, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Our latest session took place earlier this week (kindly hosted and supported by Lansons Communications). Our panel discussed something we often hear about as a barrier to young women getting into the media – the thorny issue of networking. It’s something that a lot of young women in particular find daunting, yet there’s no doubt that it is absolutely crucial in meeting the right people, finding opportunities and ultimately helping to advance your career.

We had a fantastic panel of experienced networkers, consisting of:

  • Clare Parsons, co-founder and chairman of Lansons Communications
  • Louisa Peacock, jobs editor and deputy editor of the Wonder Women section at the Daily Telegraph
  • Heather Davies, head of content at Unusual Productions and joint head of digital at Sound Women

How important is networking?

We began by asking if any of our panellists had ever got a job through networking, and how they feel it has affected their careers.

Heather said that she’s probably got every job she has had in radio due to networking – but rather than feeling it’s ‘networking’, she’s just always made sure to follow up with the people she liked. Clare agreed, and added that she’s always been a social person who wanted to join things and be involved. As her career started before the days of Twitter and LinkedIn, she said it’s much easier these days for people to stay in touch and build their networks. She also feels that, compared to earlier in her career, people are much more willing to share and open themselves up to new opportunities – perhaps because of the more difficult business environment.

How to go about building a network

The panel all agreed that being at the centre of things, getting involved wherever you can, and being useful are great ways to make an impression with the people who count. It all helps grow your ‘memorability’, especially with people who might meet a lot of people like you in the course of their work.

Louisa also made the point that ‘networking’ isn’t necessarily all about making contacts outside of your organisation – making friends within your company is just as important and those people could be just as important in the future. It could open you up to opportunities you didn’t even know existed, and you never know where the person sitting next to you could end up.

‘Formal’ networking events

The conversation then turned to more formal networking events, and everyone agreed that these can be scary, regardless of how experienced you are!

Louisa felt that at formal events, it’s fine to be up front about mingling if you’ve been speaking to one person for too long. Clare added that there’s nothing wrong with mingling in a pair, and it can help build confidence. Clare’s top tips for formal situations were to only try to ‘break in to’ a group with odd numbers, as with a group of three, you then turn it into two pairs rather than leaving someone on their own.

Heather’s tricks for formal events include trying to get the guestlist if possible, and looking up people on Twitter beforehand. That way, even if you don’t know anyone else there, you have an idea of who you can go and talk to.

All the panellists agreed that it’s worth putting the time in to thinking how you can open conversations. You can ask whether the other person has been to that event or venue before, and if it’s a particular type of audience (for example, people who work in radio), know if there are any big news stories that everyone will be talking about. If you’re a PR, you always need to know what the big headlines are that day – no excuses! Once in conversation, remember to ask lots of questions about the other person – it will make them easier to remember and after all, everyone likes talking about themselves.

Heather also had a great tip about having a good story to tell – anything interesting or funny that has happened to you recently (her example was meeting Cliff Richard!) will help you to stick in people’s minds.

Louisa also made the point that you don’t need to try and speak to the whole room when at an event. It’s much more valuable to speak to 5 people in depth than 20 where you won’t remember any names.

Following up

The panel agreed that following up is half the battle with networking; all have experienced situations where someone hasn’t followed up with them after asking for something at an event. Clare allocates two hours the morning after an event to following up and said her favourite tool is sending a LinkedIn invite with a personal message. The panel felt this is much more effective than just handing out a business card, which is slightly impersonal and also easy to lose.

In general, the panel all agreed that finding the networking environments that suit you is really important. And remember that you can build your network in lots of ways – if you have lots of outside interests, that makes you a more interesting and memorable person whatever environment you’re in.

Thanks again to our panel and to Lansons for hosting. For anyone now inspired to try out their networking skills, Young Women in Media’s next event in January will be a (belated) Christmas social. Stay tuned for more details!

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