Expert insights

Networking like a pro: two views on how to do it

27 June 2017

Better to build business relationships in an office, or relaxed, out-of-hours setting? We ask experts for their views.

Networking is best with a structured meeting

Structured networking helps you focus your time.

Having a clear idea of whom you are meeting and what you want to learn can help us achieve business objectives more quickly and effectively, and help to advance our careers.

A golf day or corporate box is not the place for a pitch.

These events often become social intercourse. It’s great to get to know people in an informal environment, but such events should stay as informal. The Bribery Act has also made the rules around entertaining even tougher: companies need to be savvy about the way they engage with their networks.

There’s less room for error.

Sometimes employees will go out for long lunches with alcohol, but fail to use the business opportunity effectively. They won’t ask for the help needed at the right time or in the right way.

You need to have business materials with you.

For me, the exchange of a business card is a symbol of a commitment to follow up and develop the conversation. You always need to have a pen with you, too – you might want to write something down in the moment. Here’s how to boost your LinkedIn profile, too.

Formal networking builds employees’ confidence.

Networking can develop an employee’s ability to think on their feet and understanding of the wider business, but they need to understand why they should engage from a career and business perspective.

Structured doesn’t mean boring.

You can still invite a mix of colleagues, have new conversations and serve refreshments at more traditional meetings.

Andy Lopata, author of …and death came third: the definitive guide to networking and speaking in public

Build trust in an informal environment

Business is about building relationships and winning hearts.

People are more likely to build trust in an informal environment where they can relax. This makes them want to connect and work together. Upholding brand values is important, but if people don’t get on, they can become irrelevant.

You can do business outside a boardroom.

If you like someone and want to work with them, you should be able to call or meet them outside of office hours, because you have a relationship.

We should encourage meaningful interaction.

Meeting outside of the office removes distractions. You can look at each other, talk to each other and be present. Combining drinks, food and new people is a good formula for forging a connection.

Informal meetings are good for work/life balance.

Meeting people on a personal and professional level should be enjoyable. I love hosting dinners and lunches with a mix of different people.

You should know who you’re dealing with.

Meeting someone in a social environment can tell you a lot about them – and being curious can help us learn new things.

Informal networking will get you remembered.

You are more likely to be yourself out of the office. If professional contacts can see and understand your passions, they’re more likely to want to share that enthusiasm with others, which can extend your professional network.

You can spot someone who is only interested in doing business a mile off.

This might be efficient, but it doesn’t endear them to you.

Pinky Lilani CBE, founder of the Women of the Future and Asian Woman of Achievement Awards

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