Networking nirvana

Tina Tang | Monday, 4 August 2008 8:34 AM |

You all know that feeling – you’ve read the brochure, checked out the speakers and decided it was a good idea to attend. Now at crunch time, you look at your diary and think, “what am I doing going to and spending days at a gabfest when I have so much work on?” Are conferences a good idea, and how effective is the networking?

Some events are a must no matter who is on the speaker list (referring to Congress of course). People go there to be seen, press the flesh, talk up their current projects and hand out business cards.

These events are often labelled ‘networking’ so you are in no doubt as to why you are really there. You will find these events at the best venues in the best towns, because they need the relaxing elements necessary to act as social oil.

Other events are all about the speakers. These people labour over their presentations, and they can be real learning opportunities. You can work out how much of an impact their presentation has made by waiting for the buzzwords to infiltrate your company.

Other speakers use conferences as covert pitches for their pet projects or simply to win work for themselves – it would be interesting to know how much impact this really has on their bottom line.

You will often see recruitment agents prowling the floor at conferences, poking around the large glass bowls which hold business cards for the door prize, cornering people as they head for the facilities, or waiting patiently in the buffet line to catch the eye or ear of a likely client.

Clearly they think the people contact is worth the effort, so there must be something in that.

So what are the most effective networking techniques to employ?

One business development manager I know carries his electronic card scanner and scans business cards into his blackberry, sending a jolly follow-up email before the welcome drinks party is even over. That is what I call hard-core networking.

Others prefer the loud party method, laughing heartily at lame witticisms, so it will look as though their little gaggle is having all the fun, and making everyone want to drift over and join them.

Name tags are handy when networking, but can be problematic. For a woman it is hard to know whether the tag or something else is being examined – men take note, we are on to you! Tags can also be unforgiving on delicate fabric, requiring ingenuity to find an appropriate spot to pin or clip them – amazing how handy those bra straps can be at times.

After the firm handshake, there is the issue of what to talk about so that your networking target doesn’t start looking over your shoulder for someone more interesting.

That’s when it pays to do your homework. By anticipating who might be there, you can mentally rehearse a few conversation starters that are relevant to that person. Things relevant to their specific roles with a touch of humour will certainly break the ice such as:

  • “So have you guys managed to find any spare money out there?”
  • “Did you hear about the [insert sale/transaction/lease], that was such a great/not so great deal!”
  • Or if all else fails, there is nothing wrong with the ubiquitous “Hi, how’s business going for you at the moment?”

For some people this is entirely natural behaviour – it’s called social graces – but for most of us in the property industry a bit of forethought goes a long way.

There is no question that getting out and about and being seen is a worthwhile pastime. However, nobody wants to be known as a Sir or Lady Lunchalot.

So conferences turn into a balancing act of just enough party time, just enough content absorbed and making sure the right connections are made, and followed through.

Following up is the key and this requires an excellent memory. Send something relevant to your conversation and you will be well on the way to establishing a friendship. A great networker will always follow up with an email or invitation.

So who are the best networkers we know? The one’s who go to everything or the more select? Nobody wants to look like a groupie who turns up on the doorstep invited or not, but really if you’re not there, you’ll never know.

So commit the dates and make the conference as important as a project and you’ll get the most out of it.

Tina Tang | Monday, 4 August 2008 8:34 AM |