I had intended to watch this webinar live, but it turned out that I was away at the time (Easter holiday!) so couldn’t. Thanks to the wonders of technology, and the fact that it is only 45 minutes long, I got to catch up with it during my lunch hour at work! I decided it was worth writing up as Networking is something all us professionals have to do at some point and Kirsten had some useful suggestions for how to do it better…)
When I think of networking, what immediately comes to mind are the ELT publisher networking events at IATEFL conference and, I will confess, a slight shudder runs through me. Being in a big room full of people I don’t know (or only know by sight/name e.g. the Scott Thornburys’ of this world) with the apparent purpose of making conversation is something that thoroughly daunts me. More specifically, the going up to people and starting up the conversation. (Does anyone else feel the same?!) When I think of networking, I think of something I ought to do but would rather avoid. When I think of networking, I think “it’s just not my thing”! So, my hope was that Kirsten Holt (who has taught, trained teachers, been a director of studies and currently works at Macmillan) would give me some ideas for getting over this dread.
First she talked about why.
Why indeed… 😉
- It can help you develop outside normal teaching day
- You can share ideas, knowledge, best practice
- Because a problem shared is a problem halved: for example, you can discuss what is going on in your classroom etc. with other professionals.
- It gives you an outward facing ELT profile, enables other people to see your capabilities
- It can help you develop business relationships (Kirsten has often applied for jobs having met the person in advance)
- It’s interesting! (hear about opportunities that other people don’t know about)
Start small and develop as you go through. Can be nerve-wracking but is easy to get to grips with. Lots of events from ELT organisations and publishers. (hahaha!)
For me, this is interesting! I had never thought of all my online activity as networking until IATEFL this year when I discussed the Cambridge event and my ‘fish-out-of-water’ feelings towards it with one of my old course mates from my M.A. at Leeds Met, and she suggested that I should play to my strengths by avoiding such events and continuing to do what I’m good at doing online e.g. connecting with people via my Blog and Twitter, for example. Kirsten’s suggestions in this area seem to build on that conversation, as far as I am concerned!
- FB pages e.g. IATEFL and Macmillan, if someone says something interesting in a comment, send them a message on FB alluding to the comment and asking for more info about it.
- LinkedIn, also groups like the ELT technologies that you can join. (More information about LinkedIn below)
You can push yourself beyond the norm, beyond your social group. That’s what’s useful about these online resources.
Of course, conferences and other such events put on by Teaching Associations, or events at work where guests also attend, are all potential opportunities for networking too.
Key part of networking: Preparation
Do your research – about the online group (is it right for you, does it match what you want form it) or the event you are planning to attend; plan what you will say to the people you introduce yourself to. Think about the type of people and companies you’d like to make contact with and do some research. If there is someone you really want to meet, search for them on LinkedIn or for profiles on company websites. It doesn’t work all the time – people might not have their picture up there for example. However, if you’ve seen their face you know who you are looking for and can say, “Hi. You’re blabla” etc. (Hence the earlier point re avoiding dog and flower type profile pictures!)
Make business cards that stand out
(There was I thinking I was doing well by actually having a business card – not to mention, remembering to take them with me to whichever event! Turns out there’s a whole other layer of things to consider!)
- something unsual (Top Trumps style, Bitesize with a bite taken out out…)
- extra thick
- Personalised touch: e.g. editing the card based on what was being talked about at the event.
- Don’t let the other side of the card go to waste. (E.g. Macmillan have a quote on one side and details on the other)
Vistaprint and Moo are apparently good – you can play around with the design online.
Keep your LinkedIn profile up to date. It’s basically a glorified CV online. It’s also a good idea to adapt it depending where you are headed to so that it is relevant to the areas you are planning to network about. On LinkedIn you can also access groups such as ELT Technologies. (Hint from me: If you go to your ‘My Groups’ which you can find under ‘Interests’, and go to ‘Discover’ it will show you a ream of groups based on those your contacts are members of. You can then request to join them!) Avoid profile pictures of flowers or dogs!
This year Kirsten is talking a lot about developing teachers so her profile shows what she has done in that area.
Another thing to consider: does it showcase your talents? Use it for self-promotion. Do you have any testimonials? Look at Kirsten’s profile on LinkedIn for an example of this.
If you are catching someone in a brief break between sessions, bear in mind they may be after a comfort break or tea, so keep it snappy (90 seconds to 2 mins tops – if people want to follow up on you later, they will – on LinkedIn etc). What you do, who you work with, what’s your teaching situation. Say what you want to do. “Hi Im Kirsten I work as a publisher in teacher development, I’m interested in teachers who will help me with reviewing material” is the example Kirsten gives. Also try and give a sense of who you are. It’s sharing your personality as much as sharing your life. If you can, have a one-liner, can make you stand out. Practice with your friends and family. Even on your own. Do a little recording of yourself and play it back. Or use a mirror. Kirsten discovered how much she used her hands and now keeps them more contained!
Be aware of how the other person is reacting. If they look bored/disinterested, stop! Don’t waste time talking to people who aren’t interested. Thank them for their time and leave it there. Move on to someone else. Not everybody will be your friend, that’s fine. Don’t take it personally, it’s not meant personally!
- Kirsten says volunteering is good if you find networking daunting. Setting up, marshalling, helping people register – it’s a great way to meet people without taking too much on yourself. Can create more ‘natural’ ways of networking.
- Show up early – before everyone arrives – there are fewer people to deal with. If you arrive very early and the speaker is setting up, allow them to set up, leave them be, meet other people. If you meet people early on, you might be more memorable.
- Introduce yourself to the organiser (the person you corresponded with in order to attend the event etc.) and they can introduce you to other people if they have the time. This could help you get going.
- Have a special number in mind, particularly for larger events like conferences. E.g for the first time maybe 10 people. And then when you achieve it, reward yourself. Or if you are at a talk, the two people next to you is even enough. It’s your special number. Your personal number of how many people you’d like to meet.
- Be engaged. As you are meeting people, think about your handshake. It stays with you if someone doesn’t have a very good one! Firm and dry is good… And look at the person as you meet them. Show that you are interested. Don’t nod at EVERYTHING but show that you are listening. Building this rapport helps you develop the relationship further. Just as you would with your students, but this time with business contacts.
- Don’t assume! Think about what you are saying and who you are saying it to. E.g. If you are meeting someone, don’t assume it’s their first time at the event just because it is yours. Or if a person is in work or out of work. “How’s work going?” could be a nonstarter… Wait to hear them describe their job before asking this question. Of course next time you meet them, you could refer back to what they say.
- Don’t say “do you remember me?”. Think how many students you meet in a term. Teachers. Teacher trainers. People at conferences. People in your personal life. Hundreds of people. So it can be a difficult question to be put on the spot with. In a sea of faces it’s hard to stand out. So if you know the person, remind them how you know each other “I was at x with you, a, b and c were also there, we did y”. A clue is very helpful!
- Be interested not interesting. Ask the other person questions, don’t just talk about yourself. At the same time, be thinking about what you can offer this person and what you want from them. Remember that they might know another 10 people, one of whom might be the person you really need to speak to.
- Use your time wisely. If it’s not working with a person you are speaking to, don’t give your card out willy nilly, only give it to appropriate people.
- Be very specific about who you are, what you do and what you are looking for.
- Take notes. On the back of their business card is a good place – something to remember them for, something from the conversation. It takes seconds. E.g. “Met at x event, date, interested in y”
What happens after you network?
Log your contacts so that you can remember them. Connect with them on LinkedIn straight away. There is a 48hr window. Don’t let cards sit in the draw in your office or in your conference bag. Make a little contact. I met you at event x and it was interesting to talk about y. You mentioned z and I’d really like to hear more about that. It’s a way to open a conversation and remind them who you are after the event. If it is a large event like IATEFL, up to a week is fine. Once you’ve made contact, don’t bombard them. Don’t send hundreds of emails. A little bit of contact is a follow-up, don’t move into the area of stalking!
Kirsten finishes by saying networking is not a competition, not about numbers, quality is more important than quantity. It’s about using your contacts wisely and having enjoyable conversations with people, sharing ideas and knowledge. (See, this actually sounds more like fun! Maybe this is what I need to remember next time I find myself at an ELT publisher event or similar so that I can enjoy it instead of feeling slightly queasy…)
Thank you, Macmillan and Kirsten! If you are interested in this topic, then I would highly recommend watching the complete webinar here on the Macmillan Website, it’s freely available and Kirsten is a good speaker, so why not?! Oh, and do feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn! 😉 )