Zen and the art of networking

How do you make an event about networking a good networking event? By not banging on too much about networking so people can get on with actually meeting each other and making connections, I’d say.

Last week’s Brighton & Hove Chamber of Commerce event, which I’m afraid was called Knowing Me Knowing You, (no problem with that really – I’m just not an ABBA fan) delivered on this score, allowing plenty of time for general milling, chat and card-swapping.

This was just as well because if I’d gone to the event hoping for guidance on effective networking I’d have come away disappointed. The formal content meandered a little, focusing rather more than it should have on the idea of Brighton becoming a ‘super city’, as defined in a recent HSBC report (an executive summary of which you’ll find here). In a nutshell, super cities (the others are London, Leeds, Newcastle and Liverpool) are those with a particular concentration of the kind of knowledge that is much in demand in the 21st century. In Brighton’s case, we’re awash with MDMA people – that’s marketing, design, media and advertising, obviously.

Read the report summary yourself if you’re interested in this notion. I have to confess that I’m not really. I’m not bothered about Brighton being grouped with those other cities by some remote analyst looking to make a point. I’m more interested in living here, loving the place and thriving in its creative energy. Brighton’s unique – just like all those other cities are in their different ways – and I’d rather celebrate that uniqueness than intellectualise it.

But back to networking. The point was made several times by different people in various ways that the best way to benefit from networking was, in effect, to focus on giving rather than taking; to come prepared to listen more than you speak and to offer more help than you ask for. I suspect that this approach is one that can only comes with practice – to begin with, it all seems so much more pressing, somehow.

I remember the first networking event I attended – the splendidly unstructured Likemind. I turned up armed with a fistful of freshly printed business cards and a few butterflies in my stomach, only to find a café full of interesting people chatting about whatever they felt inclined to chat about. Topics covered during that first session included fractals, search engine optimisation and learning to speak Spanish. Entirely by accident, I fell in with a couple of blokes who just happened to be able to help me sort out some minor issues I had around setting up my website. I’m not sure I helped either of them but that didn’t seem to matter.

The other local network I have a lot of time for is WriteClub, a loose association of people in Brighton – and now London too – who write, for a living or just for fun. The group was set up by Leif Kendall, a Brighton copywriter who personifies all that’s good about networking with his laid back and selfless approach. WriteClub meets twice each month, one morning in a cafe and one evening in a pub, and after a tiny bit of that initial awkwardness that usually attends any physical meeting of a group that started online, the conversation quickly starts flowing all over the shop.

Despite its splendid informality, WriteClub has led directly to paid work for me and several other members – work that simply wouldn’t have come up if we hadn’t been part of the collective. In my experience, this less-is-more approach seems to work very well.

And I suppose that’s the point of this post: going into any form of networking with a relaxed attitude and looking to bring more to the event than you take from it is much more likely to result in you benefitting from it. I hope that’s reassuring to hear for anyone just starting out. Just be patient and generous – the work will eventually follow.

As a postscript, I attended another informal networking session last Friday – the Brighton Tweetup – expecting nothing but Twitter talk. There was some of that but there was also just a light touch of business networking. Those of us who felt like it put our business cards on a table and chatted a bit about how we used Twitter to promote our businesses.

Then a chap came in, studied the cards, picked up mine and another copywriter’s, came over to the group and asked who the copywriters were. Stepping deftly in front of the other copywriter so she couldn’t be seen, I flashed a winning smile and said I was one of them. He said, “Great, I’m looking for a someone to write some marketing material.” Within five minutes we’d agreed a follow-up meeting. My kind of networking!

This entry was posted on Monday, January 31st, 2011 at 10:31 am and is filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply