Kirsten Holt discusses three key stages to networking through a series of simple steps and tips to help the uninitiated develop their networking skills.

Many of us find the task of networking quite daunting – it’s something we have a feeling we should do but tend to avoid it if at all possible. We are not alone. A quick search online can bring up a plethora of pages on the subject but how can we move away from thinking ‘It’s just not my thing!’ to ‘I’d like to give it a go.’?

I think the secret is to break it down into manageable chunks (preparation; perfecting your approach; following up) rather than looking at it as a whole – that way each task becomes more doable and therefore can install confidence along the way. But even before breaking the process down, let’s look at why we should be networking in the first place. Networking can help develop business relationships which enable you to:

  • keep up with new trends and pedagogies
  • share knowledge or best practice
  • come across new career opportunities. 

There are many ways to network in ELT – traditionally the best places have been at conferences or events run by ELT organisations/publishers... but with the rise of social media, try networking with the same groups online; first by adding a comment to a post or discussion thread, then expanding the conversation. The trick is to start in one place and to build up slowly, with the view of having a diverse network, not a large one!

1 Before the event … preparation is key!

Step 1: Do your research

Think about the type of people and companies you hope to make contact with and what events they might attend – looking at a previous event’s programme or participants’ list can help. If there’s a key person you would like to meet, check out their online profile so you know who to look out for.

Step 2: Get your business cards ready

During events people can exchange a lot of cards so make yours stand out by using an eye-catching colour, picture or shape for yours. If you are networking for a specific purpose, don't let the back of your card go to waste. Use it for a mini-resume or even a brief professional recommendation (provided you have permission to do so).

Step 3: Set up an online profile

LinkedIn is an accessible way to have your CV online and can be more effective than handing out your CV because you can add endorsements and testimonials. Use a recent photo of yourself as your profile picture and make sure your information is up to date.

Step 4: Have a snappy pitch ready

Optimise your networking opportunities by having a synopsis of what you do and where you work, who your clients are (if relevant) and what your goals are ready. Try to give a sense not only of what you do but who you are, within two minutes. Then practise to get the patter right.

2 Networking on the day … perfecting your approach

Tip 1: Arrive early

If you arrive early, you might get the chance to engage one-on-one with people before the place gets hectic – and you could make that first impression in someone's mind before they get swamped with business cards!

Tip 2: Introduce yourself to the organiser

If you don’t know where to begin, seek out the event organiser and introduce yourself. They might be able to introduce you to other participants to get you started.

Tip 3: Choose a specific number

Have a number in mind of how many people you’d like to meet and keep it realistic. The first time you go to a conference, set out to meet 10 people … if you’re at a talk, perhaps networking with the two people next to you is enough, then reward yourself when you achieve it.

Tip 4: Be memorable … for the right reasons

As you are meeting people, think about your handshake. People tend to remember if you don’t have a very good one, rather than what you talked about, so aim for a firm and dry handshake.

Tip 5: Don’t assume!

Think about what you are saying and who you are saying it to – don’t assume it’s someone’s first time at the event just because it is yours. Also, avoid asking if they remember you – for anyone it can be a difficult question to be put on the spot with. So, if you know the person, remind them how you know each other ‘I was at such-and-such with you; A, B and C were there; we did blah-di-blah…’ they’ll appreciate the prompts!

Tip 6: Be interested, not interesting

Listen to what they have to say and ask questions – don’t just talk about yourself! Start by asking why they’ve come to the event and give the person time to talk. Once you’ve got to know more about the other person, it should be easier for you to talk about yourself and your ideas.

Tip 7: Use your time wisely!

Use your time wisely – be aware of how the other person is reacting. If they look disinterested, you may have caught them at a bad moment so thank them for their time and move on. Also, be selective with who gets your card – it’s better to give it to one person who you’ve spent 10 minutes having a meaningful conversation with, than 10 people you’ve spent a minute with.

Tip 8: Take notes.

When you ask for someone’s card, take notes. Having something to remember them for or something from the conversation is useful and it only takes seconds to do.

3 After the event … following up

Step 1: Log your contacts

To avoid the cards becoming an unloved and forgotten pile somewhere, book some time after the event to add people to your contacts, recording as much detail as possible.

Step 2: Follow up

If you don't follow up, the networking fails! Send an email or make a connection online within a week of the event, preferably acknowledging the conversation you had as a reminder.

Step 3: Don't 'only connect'

Networking isn't a competition about who gets the most cards; it should be about having enjoyable conversations with people, sharing ideas and knowledge and using your contacts wisely. I look forward to meeting you online!

About the author

Kirsten Holt is Publisher of Teacher Professional Development at Macmillan Education, having worked in the publishing sector for just over ten years. Before the move into publishing, she worked in education for a similar length of time, first as a teacher/materials writer, then as a teacher trainer, before becoming a Director of Studies and trainer of teacher trainers. Kirsten is passionate about supporting teachers, authors and editors alike in their professional development as well as investigating ways to respond to the evolving world of ELT.

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