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An hour was not enough
Networking. That word has the power to strike fear into the hearts of men and women the world over.
OK, that’s a bit dramatic, but the mere thought of networking is sometimes enough to kick start feelings of dread or resistance, especially for anyone with a tendency towards introversion (myself included, despite appearances).
So when Lucy Marks, invited me to the annual Norfolk Network Networking Hour at NUA, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Even though I knew the purpose of this hour was to help students develop their networking skills and meet practitioners in the field, there was no precedent in my mind as to what I should expect.
Would the students hold back, letting their uncertainties, social etiquette and nerves get the better of them? Or would they be daring and just go for it, because they didn’t know any different?
I really wasn’t sure, but I wanted to find out, so I went.
But it wasn’t just personal curiosity that made me go. I like Lucy and wanted to help. I also wanted to give my time to those students, and share with them some of the really useful things that only practical experience can teach you.
And I’m glad I went.
I would recommend it to any practitioner who has something to share, but whom also wants to listen and learn. These students have some amazing ideas, not to mention the same hopes and fears as practitioners (we’re just older and not necessarily wiser). There is something invigorating about meeting people who have huge amounts of energy and want to make their mark on the world. That is a huge source of inspiration and potential.
Yes, some of the students were nervous, but naturally so. (I still get nervous. All that time and experience has done is enable me to mask it better.) And those nerves meant one or two of the students were hesitant to say hi, as if they were being rude or somehow didn’t have permission to speak in spite of the fact this event was for them!
The minute I caught sight of their nervous faces I realised it was down to me and the other practitioners to do something. So we smiled more readily. We invited people to join our circles (especially after a gentle reminder from Lucy). We asked them to tell us what they wanted to achieve. And we connected people.
I left feeling happy that I might have helped someone else on their way, and that’s when it hit me: if we would all like to get more out of networking, then it’s up to us to do something about it. So here’s a suggestion for what we can all do at our next networking event:
- Be the first to smile and say hello
- Offer your hand before they offer theirs
- If you’re already talking in a group, open up the circle to the person who might be hovering nearby, invite them to share their opinion on what you’re talking about.
We can all do those things, no matter our level of experience or position in life.
And if you’re worried about the “selling” bit, the answer is easy: don’t sell. No one takes a cheque book to a networking event.
Instead, try talking about a particular challenge you have and ask the other person how they would go about solving it. Or flip that on its head and talk about how you helped someone else solve their problem. Chances are, you’ll have an interesting conversation and people will remember you in a positive light. And who knows what might happen after that!
I only have one question left: where do I sign up for the next networking hour?
Networking Hour is an annual event organised by Norfolk Network. Students from Norwich University of the Arts meet local creative professionals to practice their networking, learn about creative career paths and make professional connections.
If you would like to participate next year contact firstname.lastname@example.org