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6 February 11 studentfocus

Special feature: What is business

‘networking’ and how do I do it?

By Ian Fraser, ABE Marketing Manager

‘Networking’, like many words in English, has more than one meaning. It can be used to refer to the linking of computers and it is also the modern term used to mean ‘building business relationships’. Indeed, the concept of creating links is common to both definitions.

Human beings thrive on building relationships. Most people have relatives and want friends (and perhaps, in due course, partners). Everyone wants to be popular. Why are Facebook and similar websites so successful? Because they enable people to link together and communicate with one another.

So what does this mean in a business situation? All business activity involves personal relationships, whether with customers, colleagues or suppliers. Business networking is building these relationships, for mutual benefit, and it is a skill to do it right. If you get it right it can lead to new business opportunities and can often be a good way to find a new job.

There are numerous occasions when networking can take place. Seminars, conferences, exhibitions and presentations are all situations where there are groups of people that provide you with an opportunity to network. So how do you do it?

The fundamental principle is to get people to trust and like you. What do you do to

get people to like you? Simple: be yourself. Be natural, try to build a rapport, ask good questions, show genuine interest, be presentable, listen, be inclusive, don’t overpower people, be light-hearted, find things in common, be friendly and be courteous.

This is easier said than done so let’s start at the beginning. When you meet someone remember that first impressions matter. Relax. You are judging them as much as they are judging you. Smile, give a firm (but not crushing) handshake, make eye contact (look them in the eye) and most importantly ask them their name.

Give your name clearly and slowly; you want them to remember you. Remember that people’s names are, to them, the most important sound in the world. Not remembering names is nothing to do with memory – it’s all about attitude. Ask them to repeat their name if you don’t hear it clearly – they won’t be upset as it shows that you are interested in them. Repeat their name when you are introduced and use it early on in the conversation to help you remember.

Offer your business card even if they haven’t asked for it. It helps them remember you and they will normally reciprocate out of courtesy. Ask for their card – it helps you remember their name and contains other useful information to support a conversation. Read their card carefully and comment

on something on it to show that you are interested in them. For example ‘I see your office is in …’ or ‘Is your company part of …’. Mark on the back of the card where and when you met them and any other interesting facts you learnt about them. However, you must only do it after the event as some people will find it offensive if you write on their card while you are with them.

Ask open questions beginning with what, when, why, who, which and how, and then follow up with a further question based on what they have just told you. Ask them questions like ‘tell me more about …’, ‘explain what you mean about ….’, ‘describe how that works’ etc. But don’t fire a barrage of prepared questions at them irrespective of how they respond! Be a good listener and encourage people to talk about themselves. People love doing that and it is the only way to find out anything about them. Good topics to talk about are current events, travel, sports, hobbies, families (although be careful, and don’t make any assumptions about their personal situation) and, of course business, but that can be a turn-off depending on the occasion and the flow of the conversation. Don’t launch into a hard sell about your business! Avoid talking about religion or politics.

Prepare an answer to the question ‘what do you do?’. Do not just give a short answer like ‘I am a marketing student’, say instead that you are learning how to solve marketing

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