Posted December 8, 2015 by Scarlett Winters 

Networking How-To

Networking eventNetworking is the process of connecting with other people for the purpose of mutual support. Usually this relates to the professional arena, and many consider networking the single most important factor in professional success, regardless of the field. Knowing that networking is important doesn’t mean a person knows how to network effectively.

Successful networking starts with preparation. First, make a point of scheduling yourself for planned networking opportunities. ACUI's regional and annual conferences are rich networking environments. Outside of ACUI, you might attend a department lunch or a campus mixer. Joining networking organizations, whether it's a local organization for young professionals or a larger business catered to more seasoned professionals, provides you with the opportunity for interdisciplinary networking. You can also network virtually by joining affinity groups online. It is a good idea to reflect on how comfortable you are with different social settings and prepare accordingly because if you are an introvert like me and the thought of networking makes you cringe, you might want to take extra time to prepare.

Definitely take advantage of provided speaker and attendee lists prior to the event, if at all possible. Find out who is going to be there and make note of people you do not want to leave without meeting. Consider making arrangements with the person prior to the event to meet at a particular time and place.

Once you have some planned networking events on your calendar, you need to prepare for spontaneous networking opportunities. Always carry your business cards with you. You never know when you might be in line at the grocery store, for example, and see someone you want to connect with. You will also want an elevator speech prepared that explains what you do in a way that people outside of the field can understand. This is harder than it sounds, so I recommend giving yourself plenty of time to compose something impactful.

Once you arrive at a networking event, a few best practices will ensure it is worth your time. First, focus on quality, not quantity. You will certainly attain more value from taking time to establish a few good relationships than meeting a lot of people who will not remember you tomorrow. Second, be more focused on what you can do for them as opposed to what they can do for you. Do you want to go to an event and be surrounded by people who want something from you? If not, the other people there probably don't either. Focus on getting their business card and asking questions about what projects they are working on and how you might be able to help them. Finally, thank them and emphasize what a pleasure it was meeting them. After the event, all of your work will be for nothing if you do not follow up with your new contacts and follow through on any promises you made while speaking with them.

If you take time to prepare, focus on quality over quantity, and follow up and follow through, you will be well on your way to becoming a networking wizard. Share your networking best practices in the comments below!
Scarlett Winters

Scarlett Winters is the Online Engagement Specialist at ACUI.

Scarlett serves as liaison to the ACUI communities of practice and Online Learning Team, and is librarian for The Exchange digital resource library. She is currently pursuing a doctorate in instructional systems technology from Indiana University.

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