Networking can be challenging for many information people but it is a skill you can acquire. Following on from the induction blog posting, it’s that time of year when you will be required to meet lots of new people - welcome lunches, evening events etc. So I thought I’d revisit some notes that I’ve found helpful in the past. As an added bonus there is a CILIP event coming up on exactly this issue.
Build your own brand
We need a personal brand to present to the world. It doesn’t matter whether you are new or returning to the industry, making a career change, or have been in the library world for a number of years. I’m not talking about acting out a role, but simply recognising that you can project an enhanced image of yourself which will encourage colleagues and associates to appreciate your confidence.
We all have valuable life experience, skills and interests. As we start asking questions about our unique qualities and what we can offer to our work and professional network, this will inspire us to be more self-assured. Once we are aware of gaps in our skills set, we can start making improvements. Knowing yourself is the first step to better networking.
Break the ice with social networks
There is an entire industry of material about building your brand online so I’m only going to mention it briefly here. Spending time on selected social media especially as a solo librarian is a worthwhile investment. I enjoy interacting with people on LinkedIn, and library and information events are enriched by people who I’ve only known previously as an avatar on Twitter.
You aren’t going to meet everyone you connect with online, but it is good to have options! Some people are encouraging ‘tweet ups’ (and implementing Welcome Zones) at library conferences because it is helping prevent social anxiety. Once you have this initial warmth and spark of interests in common, confidence follows. Then you can focus on expanding your skills, helping others, making friends and actually having fun.
Make use of your library skills
The importance of the reference interview has long being recognised by information people. Even when we are in a sector-specific information role, we still have to ‘expect the unexpected’. Often our enquirer is uncertain how to frame their question so we need to skillfully draw out the relevant information.
CILIP offers tips on how to improve your reference interview skills and these could be applied to any social situation. The ability to be a good listener, to have empathy with the other person and respond appropriately is a big part of networking. Of course, this one-to-one ability is a far cry from a roomful of people. But once you are in the conversation, people will start to value your presence as an assured communicator.
The art of joining a conversation
‘Once you are in the conversation...’ this is sometimes easier said than done. The most socially adept person can enter a room and feel trepidation at the circles of chatting people. Remember that most people are there for the same reason you are: to make contacts, to exchange ideas, to learn something new.
This is where the calming, deep breaths will help; scan the room and note where there is a break in the flow, or gap in a group. Step in, listen and introduce yourself, saying where you work. Perhaps you can mention a couple of broad interests. You may have overheard their conversation and have something to add, or you can ask what excited them about this event.
If you have been following recent local, national and international affairs, you immediately have a number of opening gambits. Even if you’re talking to someone in a different industry, you will have news interests in common. As you move confidently forward to join a group, when there is that conversational lull, you will be prepared.
At a work event, it is crucial for you to get an idea of the sort of person they are so you can anticipate how they will use information services. People have lives outside work; maybe they are studying or have just started a new venture. This is when you can promote yourself and raise your profile.
Most importantly - be yourself!
Yes, obviously networking becomes much easier if you enjoy being around people. If it is a challenge, for whatever reason, part of your personal brand is at least cultivating an interest in others. When you are building an online presence, this is slightly easier as you can take a rest if you’re feeling overwhelmed.
If you are relaxed and at ease with yourself, and acknowledge to others that you don’t feel at your best at networking events, I have found people broadly sympathetic. People respond to genuine warmth and an open attitude. Although people see online networks as essential, physical interactions are far more valuable because of the building of trust.
Your knowledgeable air and wide ranging professional interests will make you memorable and ensure that you become a valued contact. You will come to reflect your brand just by being you. What works for you? How do you approach networking?