Networking and Public Health

Do you jump up and down with excitement or shiver in fear when you are faced with a networking event? We all react differently to new situations. If you are a seasoned networker, feel free to share your tips, so they can be added to this article for others to benefit from.

This article is aimed at the beginner networker.

What is networking?

Networking is the process of developing contacts and relationships and is an opportunity to:

  • exchange information
  • meet new people
  • form ongoing professional relationships
  • gather information
  • make connections.

I like to think of networking like a spider creating a web: it’s a trail of your contacts and connections. It’s never-ending and new links continue to be made over time.

There are many platforms for networking, including having a presence on LinkedIn, social media pages, blogs and many more. These all contribute to your reputation and ability to be connected and create new networks. An online presence may be a cost-effective way to connect to large numbers across the world.

This article focuses on face-to-face networking.

The Pask lemon tree analogy

Four years ago, I planted a lemon tree. I looked after it, watered it over the summer months, and provided fertiliser as per the instructions. I read gardening articles and googled ways to get lemon trees to produce fruit, but despite all this research it never produced any lemons. I decided to keep the tree and gave up on expecting any fruit. This year, however, it is laden with lemons and I didn’t do anything different. What I realise now is that the tree needed time to establish and grow strong supportive roots and build strength to produce lemons. Had it produced lemons in the first year without the foundations of good roots the tree may not have survived. This is like networking: the results take time and foundations must be built before you see results. The main foundation for successful relationships, I believe, is trust.

At one of the ANA Regional forums held in 2018, I went up to a person standing alone and started talking with her. She told me she found networking stressful, like walking on shattered glass, and didn’t have the confidence to talk to a stranger. She was new to her job and thought everyone was so much more experienced. I introduced her to another person and after the event, she emailed me to thank me for my effort in including her in the conversation. It was easy. Those of us with more confidence can look out for those standing alone and make it our business to help them out on the networking journey.

Five tips for successful networking

  1. You are your brand
  • Be comfortable with yourself: portray the real you. Motivator, Lisa O’Neill tells us people will judge you based on your looks in the first 30 seconds. She highly recommends starting with a smile! Be genuine, listen carefully and look for connections.
  • Wear something interesting, like a large brooch, a different tie or statement necklace. I think of the politician Peter Dunne wearing a bow tie as his statement piece. This is a way to be remembered, but also an opportunity for others to start a conversation: ‘Your jewellery is interesting, tell me about it…’
  • Make yourself interesting and finish the conversation on a positive note.
  • Famous communicator Jon Levy says don’t use your job title as a crutch when introducing yourself. Avoid acting like you are conducting a job interview. Instead of saying ‘I’m Alison, the health promotion manager for ANA’ (boring!), turn it into a positive statement by saying ‘I’m Alison and I’m on a mission to ensure Aotearoa has the most informed public health workforce in the world.’ This is so much more exciting and lends itself to further questions.
  1. Have an elevator pitch or your infomercial ready

This is something you can say in the lift when you meet someone and only have a short amount of time. Imagine meeting the prime minister in the lift. Now is your opportunity to share something profound: what will you say?

Always have a business card handy. If you don’t have a business card, look at what else you have access to that can become your calling card, such as a pamphlet.

  1. Prepare conversation starters

The trickiest part is the start, so once you have overcome the initial awkwardness the rest isn’t so hard.

I’m sure you will come up with better lines than this, but here are a few to get you thinking. Have your answer prepared to so you can share in the conversation too.

  • What are the biggest challenges in your world at present?
  • What interests you in attending today’s event?
  • I really enjoyed your talk, can you tell me more about…
  • What do you think of the food served for lunch today?

Most networking events aren’t the right environment for deep debate. Move on rather than trying to convince someone with different views to move over to your side.

  1. Take opportunities when they arise

You may find that it is easier to make connections if you have a ‘job’ to do in a large group networking setting. For instance, you could work at the registration table at a conference, volunteer to host a small group discussion or offer to assist in another way that gives you something to do and still gives you a chance to meet many different people. Rise to the challenge. See the positives in all situations.

ANA has had great feedback from individuals when they have stepped up to chair a conference concurrent session. One recent conference delegate, who was close to retirement, was asked to chair and did a fabulous job. She said she would never have known she was so good if she hadn’t given it a go.

  1. After the event
  • If you wish to make ongoing contact with a person, send an email the following day (hopefully you left a good impression so they remember you). Consider sending them an interesting article or link, or something that you have that may be of interest to them.
  • Plan your networking contacts according to when your personal energy is highest. If you are a morning person consider a breakfast meeting.
  • Plan what you hope to gain by meeting with this person. If you don’t have a purpose to meet then don’t waste their time and yours.
  • Information helps you feel more confident when you approach a contact. Be prepared: look at the persons linked-in profile, become familiar with their website.
  • Allow adequate time for your meeting. You don’t want to be rushing, arrive late or have to leave early. If they are worth meeting, they are worth making a priority.
  • Add the person on LinkedIn, follow them on Twitter…
  • Deliver on your promises.

Article written by Alison Pask June 2018. For Correspondence on this article email Alison here