Have you ever thought about the brand you’re conveying through your networking? You should. Every engagement you have affects your professional reputation or brand. Don’t make these all-too-common mistakes in your networking communication:
1. Your introduction is too long, boring and complicated for anyone to digest.
Is your message typically the length of Tolstoy’s War and Peace or so convoluted that the listener needs a set of Cliffs Notes? Do you include all the backstory of your life, more than anyone would ever want to know? While context is critical to building (virtual and in-person) professional relationships and guiding a person’s understanding of your work, remember that what they actually need to know is inevitably a snapshot of everything you could tell them. So make that snapshot concise and interesting.
Let’s consider Brian, a friend I went to a networking event with last week. Brian is a great guy, he’s the type of person who is the first one to lend a hand if you need to move house or want some help building a fence. But once we walked through the doors of the networking venue he morphed into a robot. His speech was stilted and all that came out was “I’m Brian, a software programmer”, at which people murmured “okay great” and then slipped off to the drink table.
Pulling Brian aside I gave him permission to be himself and add a touch of pizzazz to his intro. It was a light bulb moment for him. His next set of introductions really worked for him, especially at this science and technology function - “My name is Brian, I write program code for medical scanners which detect protein build up in the brain. I really enjoy the work because I get to manipulate observational data that could lead to a breakthrough for dementia suffers.” At this point one networker responded with “Wow, that sounds incredible, dementia affects so many people, my friend’s dad has it…” and so the basis for a great conversation started.
These interesting points hooked his audience and allowed Brian a way of presenting his brag list, whereby he offered ‘the goods’ in an upfront way, but not in an obnoxious fashion. Remember, given that the adult attention span is a mere eight seconds, it’s important to make every moment count. Get to the point with your best bits and do so in an interesting way.
2. You’re attempting to connect with way too many people.
Does your LinkedIn or Facebook habit of connecting and messaging anyone and everyone you have ever met at a conference, meeting or workplace Christmas party ensured that a cast of thousands is in the loop? If so, ask yourself who is truly the essential audience for your message. In fact, do you even recall who most of the 500+ connections really are? An overblown social media account is the equivalent of running around a networking function tossing your business cards at everyone present including the caterers (I hope this is not you, if it is stop now!).
No one remembers you (at least not for a worthwhile reason). More is not always better. Perhaps it’s time for a connections clean-up.
3. Your communication and message is too broad.
This is especially the situation when you send a group message via social media and your content makes a broad sweep with a little bit for everyone. The result is your message says nothing of importance or interest. It is like those once a year Christmas card messages from acquaintances you haven’t spoken to in 12 months, who insist on telling you about every birth, death, and marriage of people you do not even know. When your inbox is already bulging at the seams you don’t want to receive another irrelevant piece of digital post.
You are far better off picking key network contacts and tailoring your message to them. Remember that each connection message you send contributes to everyone’s inbox, including your own - so make the content worthwhile so that you’re not labelled a spammer.
If your correspondence is about creating another rung in the corporate ladder, inform your select contacts of the challenges that you wish to pursue and what you are capable of achieving. Be authentic and enthusiastic in your pursuit, but never forceful. You should clearly demonstrate to others your strengths and skills and more importantly why you are choosing to let them know.
4. You’re blurting out incomplete thoughts.
While there’s a lot to be said for sharing opinions and ideas, there’s a big difference between being insightful and filling a silence with empty words.
Do you find yourself shooting off vacuous one-liners without considering whether the listeners or social media readers can follow the train of thought? Do you end up with a high volume of clarifying questions in response to your comments or worse still people excusing themselves from your conversations? If so, that’s a clue that your discussions need more composition and context – how now brown cow!
To help build these elements into your networking discussions brush up on your audience first. Who will be attending the networking event, or who are the members listed in the social media discussion group? What organisations do your audience work for and identify the top three challenges that their industry may be facing? How do you find this stuff out? Google it! (Isn’t that how most people make it through their degree?).
Or, if you have more time on your hands and have a desire to crack into a niche industry read through the latest trade journals and keep an eye on the business section of the Australian Financial Review or The Australian. It’s a great way to gather commentary and build your knowledge. Plus, it sounds a little more intellectual if you drop the name of a journal or economic columnist.
5. You’re burying the lead.
It shouldn’t take Dan Brown’s lead character in the DaVinci Code to decipher the important message hidden in your conversations.
Make sure the people you engage with know what you're requesting of them and why they should care about responding.
Despite our compulsive desire to exhibit verbal dexterity and provide knowledge laden filibustery to our listeners, often it is better to ask thoughtful questions or offer to assist someone with a challenge they are facing. This is a much more desirable basis for building a relationship when networking. Genuine assistance, especially through volunteering, is a great way to demonstrate your current skill base. In addition, you have the opportunity to acquire new skills through some on-the-project training with readily accessible project mentors; many who become friends and valuable future referees - it is networking without really networking.
Daniel Capper is a Senior Manager at UQ Careers Service (Student Employability Centre) and the Queensland/ Northern Territory President of the National Association of Careers Advisory Services.
Disclaimer: eNews articles are intended to provide general commentary and general information only. They are not intended as professional advice or as a substitute for professional advice and should not be relied upon as such. They are the work of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the university or involve the recommendation or endorsement of the university.