By Ravi Kumar, Project and Partnership Manager, Birmingham Science City
The Birmingham Science City Alliance is all about partnerships and collaborations across the local innovation ecosystem. Networking is an invaluable tool to help develop successful partnerships. Done correctly, it helps to create new relationships, leading to successful collaborations, new opportunities, cultivated friendships and a source of professional support and inspiration.
In the following blog I will share invaluable tips that have helped me make the most of all networking events that I attend, and point you to some innovation related events and networks that you may wish to get involved in.
1. Arrive early. It’s almost counter-intuitive, but showing up early at a networking event is a much better strategy than getting there at a later time. As an early attendee, you’ll notice that it’s calmer and quieter – and people won’t have settled into groups yet. It’s easier to find other people who don’t have conversation partners yet.
2. Have a plan. Since every person has value, it’s essential that you know what yours is. Before you attend any networking event, get clear on what talents, strengths, skill sets and connections you can bring to the table. Map out what you want to talk about, particularly how you may be able to help other people, either now or in the future.
3. Ask easy questions. Don’t wait around the edges of the room, waiting for someone to approach you. To get the conversation started, simply walk up to a person or a group, and say, “May I join you” or “What brings you to this event?” Don’t forget to listen intently to their replies. If you’re not a natural extrovert, you’re probably a very good listener – and listening can be an excellent way to get to know a person.
4. Forget your personal agenda. Remember, networking is all about relationship building. Keep your exchange fun, light and informal – you don’t need to do the hard sell within minutes of meeting a person. The idea is to get the conversation started. People are more apt to do business with – or partner with – people whose company they enjoy.
If a potential partner does ask you about your skills, product or service, be ready with an easy description of your organisation. Before the event, create a mental list of recent accomplishments, such as a new collaborations you have started, business you’ve landed or project you’ve completed. That way, you can easily pull an item off that list and into the conversation.
5. Share your passion. Win people over with your enthusiasm for your organisation, product or service. Leave a lasting impression by telling a story about why you were inspired to create your company or pursue your professional interests. Talking about what you enjoy is often contagious, too. When you get other people to share their passion, it creates a memorable two-way conversation.
6. Smile. It’s a simple – but often overlooked – rule of engagement. By smiling, you’ll put your nervous self at ease, and you’ll also come across as warm and inviting to others. Remember to smile before you enter the room, or before you start your next conversation. And if you’re really dreading the event? Check the negative attitude at the door.
7. Never dismiss anyone as unimportant. Make it your mission to discover the value in each person you talk to. Ask questions and listen with interest. Don’t make the mistake of discounting people due to their titles. Someone you meet may appear ‘junior’, but they may have valuable connections or knowledge you’d never learn about if you’d dismissed them.
Then, when the conversation ends, remember what that person has to offer as you move to the next.
8. Connect the dots. Once you begin to listen to people and learn what they can bring to the table, you’ll start realizing how one person in the room may be able to help another. Make it a point to connect people you feel have something of genuine value to each other. When you go out of your way to make those potentially promising connections, you’re doing your part to make the networking event a success.
9. Remember to follow up. It’s often said that networking is where the conversation begins, not ends. If you’ve had a great exchange, ask your conversation partner the best way to stay in touch. Some people like email or phone; others prefer social networks like LinkedIn. Get in touch within 48 hours of the event to show you’re interested and available, and reference something you discussed, so your contact remembers you.
10. Believe in the power of networking. When you believe that the true value of networking lies in helping others and you do your part, you’ll soon discover magic happening all around you. The beauty of this approach is that you never know when that magic may cast its spell on you.
On the events page of Birmingham Science City Alliance website you will find a whole range of innovation-related networking opportunities taking place in the West Midlands all the time. There are also a number of Groups and Networks regularly convened with or by Birmingham Science City, with each group contributes towards achieving our objective of building and maintaining a thriving innovation ecosystem, catalysing collaborative activity and strengthening our collective expert voice for innovation.
But perhaps the best event of the year to extend your innovation networks is Venturefest West Midlands, where 600-700 innovators, entrepreneurs and investors will be convening on 27th June 2017.