The mere notion of meeting and influencing new people at breakfast time sends me into a cold sweat but this is exactly what I was asked to facilitate at the WCVA Conference, ‘Engage! Collaborative Working’ in the Liberty Stadium, Swansea this week.
About 20 people from a variety of third sector organisations in Wales turned up especially early to attend the breakfast networking session run by Participation Cymru.
As the facilitator for this session, it challenged me to ask the question, ‘How good am I at networking myself’?
It is after all more than just saying hello to someone else in the room. It is a deliberate activity, a practiced art and there are natural networkers and then those like myself who have to work quite hard at it. Put me in front of a room of participants for a training session or ask me to facilitate or chair a meeting and I am well within my comfort zone. Put me, without a role to play, in a group of people I don’t know and I find that much more difficult.
Networking is an important competence for many a job these days. Partnerships and collaborative working depend on it. Making the most of meeting new people with a view to them being potential new colleagues or partners is something we all need to be good at.
So this meeting over breakfast offered the opportunity for a seemingly random set of people to start getting to know each other better, to share knowledge, experience and opportunities. To go away with a new contact, a fresh piece of thinking or the germ of a collaborative opportunity.
Time was limited before the opening plenary session of the conference started so I facilitated a speed networking process that allowed people to identity someone in the room they didn’t know and to spend 5 minutes in each other’s company using the following as prompts and then another person and so on:
- Tell each other who you are, where you’re from and what you do.
- Identify what you and your organisation can offer to others.
- Identify what you and your organisation can gain from others.
After all ‘Networking is marketing. Marketing yourself, marketing your uniqueness, marketing what you stand for.’ (Christine Comaford-Lynch).
But it also worth remembering that. ’You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you’. (Dale Carnegie).
Networking is a skill that can be learnt. It is an attitude that says, ‘I am open to new encounters and opportunities’.
Thank you to those eager people who took up the opportunity to network at breakfast this week and I hope that the conversations over coffee and croissants was worth the early start.