It took me a while to muster up the confidence to ask a stranger to coffee.
But once I got the ball rolling, it was as if I couldn’t stop.
Six months later I have been on more than 60 coffee 'dates'.
“And for what purpose?” I hear you ask.
Well… I landed the job I wanted with Naked Ambition. As well as a temporary role in the not-for-profit sector and I have built up a wealth of collective knowledge and inspiration - 60 times over.
So what have I learnt?
I have noticed a distinct shift in the professional networking paradigm:
- Business cards are being replaced by coffees (or tea for the non-coffee drinkers).
- Traditional cocktail-hour gatherings are being replaced by casual settings and dining experiences.
- SEEK applications, recruiters and resumes are being replaced by authentic, long-term, professional connections.
Many have latched on to, and are harnessing, the demand for non-traditional networking opportunities.
Gianna Wurzl, the founder of Les Femme Forum, carefully crafts and curates networking events in the form of underground dining experiences for women. “I’m simply trying to modernise the [networking] framework for an adventurous and progressive audience,” she says.
Les Femme Forum has had some great success! “Two women met at a dinner in November. One runs a charity called Project Future and the other runs a marketing business. Both women have been coordinating and collaborating ever since.”
Kara Jenkins is the founder of SheSays Melbourne creating an attainable forum for like-minded women with backgrounds in advertising, marketing, media and PR. These networking events are held in restaurants and bars all around Melbourne with inspiring speakers and casual standing settings, “We find this offers a more relaxed feel and allows for better networking and conversations in the group.”
5 HOT TIPS FOR YOUR NETWORKING STRATEGY
1. Don’t agonise over the introductory email.
We live in a world of narcissistic caffeine addicts. Most people love a coffee and an opportunity to talk about themselves and they will generally be willing to meet with you. Briefly introduce yourself via email (or LinkedIn), let the person know how you heard about them or obtained their contact details and ask for the opportunity to chat further in person.
2. LinkedIn has become the linchpin for face-to-face networking.
Harness social media to gain insight into a person prior to a coffee catch up or networking event. Seek out whether you have any mutual friends or common interests. This knowledge will serve you very well as a conversation starter helping both you and others to network with ease and comfort.
3. Build rapport and make friends
Throw out the idea that networking is simply about fulfilling your professional needs. There is an art to authentic networking and it begins by building rapport. There is no pressure to “get to business” without first establishing a connection. Ask the other person lots of questions. It’s a chance to make good friends.
4. Know Your Story
Be clear on how you want to be portrayed. Prepare a personal statement. Preparation is key to speaking with confidence and authority. Think about the common networking questions you may be asked such as:
- So what do you do?
- How did you hear about this networking event?
- What opportunities are you seeking?
Have an idea of what you would like to talk about but don’t over think all of this. We still want to see your true self!
5. Keep to your word and be strategic in your follow-ups.
Follow-ups, either via email or LinkedIn, are an imperative part of nourishing a long term, professional relationship. It is important to keep the lines of communication going and to keep to your word. If you say you are going to do something (such as introduce two people via email) then ensure that you do it!